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Andra Espinoza-Hunter Is Ready to Take Center Stage
A breakdown of how she fits perfectly in the Pirates’ scheme
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From being the youngest on the Bronx Gauchos in sixth grade to lighting up the SEC Tournament on the biggest stage, Andra Espinoza-Hunter’s basketball journey has been a tumultuous one.
In an interview with WSOU Sports, she detailed her humble beginnings and how it was some healthy sibling competition that led to her falling in love with basketball in the first place. Learning how important it is to be resilient and hard-working from her mother, it was these values that led to success throughout her prep career. She won New York Gatorade Player of the Year her senior season and was a top 20 recruit who played for the University of Connecticut her freshman year before transferring to Mississippi State.
Now, an SEC championship, silver medal, and a bachelor’s degree later, we fast forward to this past summer. She initially opted out of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 concerns, becoming the first non-football player at Mississippi State to do so. This was a huge decision for Andra, as she would’ve been one of three seniors on the roster and destined for a big role on the campus she called home for two years. However, after thinking it over and discussing it with her family, she prioritized her safety and her future career (Mississippi State doesn’t offer a pediatric occupational therapy program) in what was a tough choice. Soon after, she entered the transfer portal where she then made a move that, little did we know, would shake the Big East to its core.
The former Husky was back in New Jersey at the first school to offer her a scholarship back in seventh grade when she played varsity at Ossining High School. About a month later, Andra was granted a legislative relief waiver that deemed her eligible to suit up for the spring semester this season. Just like that, the Pirates added a player with Division I experience at the highest levels directly into their rotation, and it was much-needed after some decimating injuries.
Her first two games for Seton Hall were relatively quiet, as she finished in double figures but didn’t really wow anyone in the box score. Then, she flipped the switch—26 points per game over her next five outings with 28 threes. So, how does she do it? What makes her so great? Furthermore, how has she fit so perfectly in the Pirates’ scheme on both ends? Let’s break down some film.
Two words: Flame. Thrower.
Before arriving in South Orange, Espinoza-Hunter already established herself as an elite shooter back at Mississippi State. During the 2018-19 season, she made an SEC Tournament-record 8 three-pointers for 24 points in the championship game against Arkansas, after shooting 42.2% from behind the arc on the year. The next season, she and now-Maryland Terrapin Chloe Bibby were nicknamed the “Splash Sisters” for their proficiency from three-point land.
This season, Andra has taken her game to another level, with her numbers skyrocketing across the board. She leads the nation with a ridiculous 4.3 made three-pointers per game, including going 20-for-30 in a three-game stretch. Not only does she drill a lot of threes, but her efficiency has been outstanding: she’s knocked down 47.6% of her attempts (that includes an 0-8 shooting afternoon in her first start against Providence, but let’s not dwell on the negatives). Basically, she shoots with the volume of Diana Taurasi, but with the accuracy of Allie Quigley. As absurd as that sounds, she is a certified sniper. Let’s look at some footage.
In the first clip, Espinoza-Hunter receives the pass from Alexia Allesch and sinks the catch-and-shoot three from the left wing. Now, when watching back the tape of these last two weeks, I realized she takes (and makes) a ton of attempts from that location. I simply had to see if the analytics backed up the film, and lo and behold, it did.
According to CBB Analytics, almost a quarter of her field goal attempts come from the left wing. League-average at that spot on the court is 9.3%. Essentially, what we see is a player extremely comfortable with that area, and Andra is downright deadly when she gets to her spot.
During her 2018-19 season at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs were tremendous offensively, ranking 2nd in points per game and 10th in points per scoring attempt. However, one area they were lacking was production from the perimeter. Sure, they shot almost 38% from 3 for the season, but only 17.9% of their points were from three-point land; that mark fell to 14.9% the next year. So, while Andra still shot a blistering percentage that first year, she was one of the few sources of offense from behind the arc which made it easier for teams to game-plan against her the next season.
Now, Andra is on a team that plays fast and to her strengths. On the season, the Pirates rank 31st in pace (up from 115th last year) and 19th in points per 100 possessions (up from 48th). Also, Seton Hall gets over 33% of their points from behind the arc, which ranks 56th in the nation. You see in those three clips how dangerous she is in transition, racing to the left or right wing and burying a barrage of trifectas; Espinoza-Hunter has been a master key to unlocking the Pirates offense in conference play.
In the final clip above, we see how she benefits from the other standouts on the Seton Hall roster. Look at how #25 Desiree Elmore (who made the Big East Weekly Honor Roll this week) dribbles and penetrates past Butler’s Tenley Dowell into the lane, before firing a pass right into the waiting hands of Espinoza-Hunter in the corner. Make no mistake, she is a walking bucket.
Andra is gamebreaker-level good off the ball, but she can also be devastating on-ball offensively. Let’s take a closer look.
She can get to her spots with ease
When you rank 6th in the nation in three-point attempts per game, naturally the defensive gameplan will be to run you off the line and force you to drive to the basket. However, Espinoza-Hunter already has counters to combat this and a great skill-set in her repertoire that allows her to get to her spots efficiently with few dribbles. In the aforementioned interview, she discusses how finishing off the dribble and through contact were fundamental components of the Bulldogs offense, and these next clips show her shot creating ability and how she can bend the defense at will.
In the first play, we see her catch the pass in the left corner against Providence’s Olivia Orlando. Andra wasn’t shooting the ball all too well in that game, but the Friars knew how lethal she was from out there. So, Orlando utilizes a hard-but-controlled closeout, staying on her feet while still ready to contest the shot. Espinoza-Hunter then uses a quick jab step and dashes towards the baseline, getting Orlando on her heels before using a shifty behind-the-back dribble and swishing the pull-up jumper—Espinoza-Hunter makes scoring look so simple sometimes.
In the next four clips, we see how dynamic she is when going left, both in transition and in the halfcourt. She’s got an affinity for hesitation dribbles and she sprinkles them to her advantage. In the play against Villanova, we see her headed straight for the left wing (her favorite spot) before using the herky-jerky move to speed past Taliyah Medina on her way to the bucket. The following play is more of the same, except this time in the halfcourt. Espinoza-Hunter gets the dribble handoff from Mya Bembry before hesi-ing right around Micah Scheetz for an easy layup.
The next two plays are from her offensive masterclass against the Red Storm, where she took over from the opening tip. Again, we see Andra running in transition, deploying that same left-handed hesitation dribble into a right-handed scoop layup around St. John’s’ Leilani Correa. In the final play, we see another dribble handoff on the right wing, this time from Jasmine Smith. This gives Espinoza-Hunter ample space to go left, which she does after getting Correa off her feet with a pump fake before finishing the feathery off-hand floater.
Simply put, Andra’s got a deep bag with a dazzling array of moves she can use to rack up points in a hurry. Since she’s a phenomenal shooter, the game opens up for her even more, allowing her to be a threat to score from every level. Now, let’s switch over to the other side of the floor and look at how Espinoza-Hunter fits the Pirates mold defensively as well.
More versatile than Robitussin and tougher than a $2 steak
I’m sure Pirates coach Tony Bozzella would understand if Andra was a negative on the defensive end. After all, she’s 20th in the nation in points per game and she just won back-to-back Big East Player of the Week awards, something a Pirate hasn’t done since Tabatha Richardson-Smith during the 2015-16 season. However, he hasn’t had to hide Espinoza-Hunter on defense at all; in fact, she’s welcomed some of the tougher matchups game after game and has done admirably on the defensive end. Let’s take a quick look.
In the first clip, we see Andra guarding Providence’s Alyssa Geary in the post, with two minutes remaining in a tight matchup. Geary stands at a towering 6-foot-4, so she assumes she has a mismatch down low. Apparently, Espinoza-Hunter didn’t get the memo as she timed Geary’s post-up attempt perfectly, drawing a charge in the clutch.
In the next clip, she’s checking all-world hooper, Villanova’s Madison Siegrist. 24 points per game, leading scorer in the conference = no biggie for Andra as she gets in Siegrist’s space, forcing her to pick up her dribble before getting the deflection which led to an offensive foul and turnover. Siegrist still finished with a strong stat line and the win, but credit to Espinoza-Hunter for taking on the challenge in just her second game at Seton Hall.
The next two plays show her agility and awareness as she finished each possession with a block. In the third clip we see her close out on Micah Scheetz, keeping her hands high as Scheetz penetrates the paint before deflecting the attempt. In the fourth play, we see her fight over the screen from Butler’s Okako Adika before smothering a layup attempt from Genesis Parker, who slipped free under the rim. Lastly, we see Andra close out on Butler’s Ellen Ross, managing to block her three-point attempt on the way up. Yes, all three of her blocks this season have come against the Bulldogs, funnily enough.
Espinoza-Hunter is producing career-high rates in both steal and block percentage, while having a solid defensive rating to boot. The Pirates rank 26th in steals per game and they force over 20 turnovers a game, which ranks 27th; Espinoza-Hunter has matched the energy of the Pirates on that end and it’s evident with every contribution. She’s quickly built a reputation for being feisty and tenacious, and that’s a reputation the entire rotation has welcomed and adopted.
It seems the COVID-19 pandemic will be what cools down Espinoza-Hunter’s hot streak, as the Pirates are now going on a pause for contact tracing and both of their games for this week have been postponed. Nevertheless, Andra’s extraordinary performance over the last five games has led Seton Hall on a five-game win streak and 6-2 overall in conference play, good enough for fourth in the Big East. She was once one of the best recruits in the country, before going from Storrs to Starkville searching for direction. Now, Andra Espinoza-Hunter is back in the tri-state area and she’s ready to take center stage on a fast track to superstardom. With other great players like Elmore and the brilliant duo of Lauren Park-Lane and Mya Jackson, who knows what the ceiling of Seton Hall is this year, but their future is unquestionably bright and Espinoza-Hunter is a big part of it.