February 2, 2019 10:36:40 PM
STARKVILLE -- It's easy to forget Andra Espinoza-Hunter has played in only 19 games for the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
It's possible the anticipation surrounding Espinoza-Hunter's decision to transfer from Connecticut to MSU added to the expectations for her first year in Starkville. The anticipation grew prior to the season as MSU coach Vic Schaefer and fans wondered if the NCAA would grant Espinoza-Hunter immediate eligibility.
More than halfway through the 2018-19 campaign, Espinoza-Hunter is showing signs she is growing more comfortable as a Bulldog.
On Thursday, Espinoza-Hunter tied a career high with 16 points in No. 6 MSU's 68-35 victory against LSU in a Southeastern Conference game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Espinoza-Hunter was 6-for-9 from the field, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range, in 36 minutes to help MSU improve to 20-1 and 8-0 in the SEC.
Espinoza-Hunter likely will earn her fourth start of the season at noon Sunday (SEC Network) when MSU takes on Alabama at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
"I think her role is a little bit similar to what Blair did for us," Schaefer said, referring for former standout guard Blair Schaefer, his daughter. "I need her to be a good help-side defender. I need her to make shots when they leave her open, and I don't need her to turn it over. If she can find T(eaira McCowan) and pass her the ball every now and then, it makes it even better."
Schaefer said Espinoza-Hunter is similar to sophomore Chloe Bibby, who stepped into the starting lineup this season, in that she is someone who can stretch defenses with her 3-point shooting ability. Bibby was averaging 11.9 points per game prior to a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to her left knee in the opening minute against South Carolina.
Schaefer said Espinoza-Hunter, a sophomore, is basically is in her first college season. While he said he has seen her improve defensively, he feels she has a lot of room to improve on both ends of the floor.
"People have to guard her," Schaefer said. "It spaces out the floor and allows Jazz(mun Holmes) and Jo(rdan Danberry) to really create and do some things for themselves. She runs the floor like Blair, in a lot of way, and gets out in transition so you can find her. Jazz finds her and looks for her. I think she is doing a good job there."
The only thing that concerned Schaefer about Espinoza-Hunter's performance against LSU was her four turnovers.
MSU among league, national leaders
MSU continues to pack Humphrey Coliseum.
With news Friday that MSU's game against Tennessee at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at Humphrey Coliseum is a sellout, the Bulldogs enter this weekend's action third in the league in average attendance. South Carolina leads the way at 11,048, while Tennessee is second at 8,011. MSU is right behind at 7.991.
Nationally, South Carolina leads the way and is followed by Iowa State, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Tennessee.
MSU has home games remaining against Missouri, Vanderbilt, and LSU after its game against Tennessee.
Tennessee has home games remaining against Auburn, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.
A second-place finish in average attendance in the SEC would be the highest finish for MSU in program history.
Last season, MSU finished seventh in the nation in average attendance at 7,439. If the current pace holds, MSU will record its fifth-straight increase in average attendance. The Bulldogs have had average attendance of 1,317, 2,321, 3,755, 5,162, 6,641, and 7,439 the last six seasons. MSU had top-10 increases in the first four seasons. The Bulldogs were 12th in increase of average attendance for the 2017-18 season.
Status of Scott uncertain
Schaefer said Friday that sophomore Bre'Amber Scott would be held out of practice after having to leave the game against LSU. Scott left the game after she ran into a screen when she was coming down the court.
Schaefer said Saturday morning he wasn't sure if Scott would practice prior to the team's game against Alabama. If she did, she would be able to play against the Crimson Tide. If she didn't, he said she wouldn't play, per his rule.
Scott played only four minutes and was 0-for-1 from the field against LSU. For the season, Scott is averaging 6.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in 12.6 minutes. She is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from 3-point range.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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