Zolman made her last regular season SEC road game one for the record books. She hit seven three-pointers and tied her career high with 28 points. The record-breaking three came from about 23 feet away on the Lady Vols' last offensive possession of the game. The performance earned Zolman the Player of the Game designation from Lady Vols radio broadcaster Mickey Dearstone.
Zolman told Dearstone that she didn't know she was setting a record, she likes the gym at Coleman Coliseum, she likes the balls that Alabama uses, and "I enjoyed it."
The fact that Zolman scored 28 points from the point guard position reflects the fluidity of the spot in the offense. When forward Candace Parker, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, spelled Zolman at the point, she would move to the wing and then to the blocks.
Zolman told Dearstone that the philosophy of playing point now was basically "taking care of the ball, getting it where it needs to be and getting us in the offense."
Zolman was also aided by Tennessee's big lineup as the Lady Vols looked to play inside out. The post players looked to score first – Fluker had 12 points and Nicky Anosike had 14 – and then opportunities opened up outside. Forward Sidney Spencer added 11 points with one three-pointer and some short and mid-range jumpers, which put all five starters in double figures.
Coach Pat Summitt pointed out the successful execution on the post-game radio show with Dearstone.
"I thought our starters did a super job overall," said Summitt, adding that Zolman bought into the inside-out concept and showed trust in her teammates, coaches and the game plan.
Alabama (9-16, 3-9) kept the game within striking distance in the first half – Tennessee led 37-28, which could have been 40-28 had a 30-footer by Parker counted at the buzzer (she appeared to be a split second late with the release) – but Tennessee (24-3, 10-2) built comfortable leads in the second half, and Summitt was able to go to her bench.
The substitutions sometimes allowed the Crimson Tide to creep closer – guard Navonda Moore torched Tennessee for a career-high 31 points – but reserve redshirt freshman forward Alex Fuller had one of her best games of the season.
She scored only two points on a pair of free throws in 21 minutes but had four rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal. Summitt said she challenged the bench to respond, and Fuller answered.
Tennessee will need more help from the bench, especially with the post season less than two weeks away, and will also need to address missed free throws. For the game, the Lady Vols were 15-25 with Parker, Anosike and Fluker accounting for the 10 misses.
The Lady Vols had 15 turnovers, but the perimeter players cut down on theirs significantly. Zolman, who had five against Georgia, had three against Alabama and also tallied two assists and two steals in 37 minutes of play.
Zolman is drawing on the lessons she learned two years ago when point guard Loree Moore went down and then-senior Tasha Butts had to step up and run the team.
"The biggest thing that I've learned is stability and patience," Zolman said. "Being able to intelligently realize the moment and time of the game. If we've had possessions with a lot of quick shots, pull it out and calm them down. Be more of a calming effect to people and the team. We need to score here, just calm down and chill out. Let's get a basket; let's get a good look. Be patient with the ball. I think that's one of the main things I've learned from the point position – just being able to be that coach and that leader on the floor."
Those were her words in the days after the team learned point guard Alexis Hornbuckle was out for the season with a broken wrist. Zolman demonstrated that patience against Alabama by backing the ball out several times to allow Tennessee to get in position to run the offense. And, she looked for her own shot, which is scoring that Tennessee will need if it hopes to stay on track to win championships, not just games.
The maximum number of games Tennessee has left is 11 – two in the regular season, three at the SEC Tournament and six to win a national title. Eleven is also the number of threes that Zolman needs to set the school single-season record. She now has 69 on the season. Former Lady Vol Kara Lawson holds the record with 79. Lawson holds the overall career record with 256 threes; Zolman is lurking with 232 from long range. Butts, Lawson (five times) and former Lady Vol Abby Conklin had hit six three-pointers in a game. Zolman had hit five three-pointers this season against Texas, Louisiana Tech and Princeton. Spencer hit five from long range this season against UConn.
Hornbuckle is missed on the defensive end – she led the team in steals and often topped the stat sheet in deflections. Tennessee averaged 9.7 steals this season when Hornbuckle was playing, but the takeaways dipped to just four against Georgia and eight against Alabama for an average of six. Taking care of the ball has been more difficult as well. Tennessee averaged 14.3 turnovers with Hornbuckle but had 21 and 15, respectively, in the past two games for an average of 18.
"She has a confidence and an air about her when she has the ball in her hand," Zolman said. "She generated a lot of steals and deflections. Basically every game she averaged double digits in deflections. That gets in the opponent's mind. When somebody is on you and they're constantly harassing you and they're getting up on you, that can get into somebody's mind.
"She was a great leader. Any point guard has to be a great leader because you're the coach on the floor at that moment. She's somebody that definitely was an addition at both ends of the floor, and we're going to miss that. That's why it's going to be a team collective effort to overcome that."