How to watch
When: Wednesday, Feb. 10, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 9-3 (7-2 Big East)
Standings: Second place
Location: South Orange, NJ
Head coach: Tony Bozzella (eighth season)
UConn women’s basketball will face off against one of its former players when Seton Hall comes to Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday. Andra Espinoza-Hunter, a member of the Huskies’ top-ranked 2017 recruiting class, will return to her old school as a member of the Pirates.
Espinoza-Hunter left UConn midway through her freshman year and eventually transferred to Mississippi State, where she spent two seasons. Over the summer, she opted out of the 2020-21 campaign due to COVID-19 concerns and eventually landed at Seton Hall. In late December, the Pirates announced she obtained a legislative relief waiver which allowed her to begin playing immediately.
Since then, Espinoza-Hunter has started and played at least 30 minutes in each game for Seton Hall. Though she started slow with a 21 combined points in her first two contests, the graduate transfer has at least 18 points in her last six games, including a 30-point effort against St. John’s in mid-January.
Espinoza-Hunter won Big East Player of the Week on Jan. 25. Overall, she leads Seton Hall with 21.1 points per game (the same per game average as Paige Bueckers) while making a team-best 44.9 percent from three.
Because Espinoza-Hunter started her career at UConn, Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella wanted to make sure the Huskies’ coaching staff wouldn’t have any issues if he recruited her.
“When I found out she wanted to transfer, the first text I made was to Chris Dailey. I said, ‘Chris, Andra’s available. We’d like to recruit her but if you’re uncomfortable with it or if something happened that you’re not okay with, I won’t recruit her out of respect to you,’” Bozzella told the Hearst CT WBB Podcast. “She responds back 10 minutes later, ‘Thank you for asking, we both really appreciate your respect. Andra just didn’t work out here but she’s a great kid, it just didn’t work out here.’”
Scouting Seton Hall
Seton Hall is one of the top teams in the Big East and will battle with the likes of DePaul and Marquette for second place in the conference. The Pirates average 76 points per game — 20th best in the nation — and allow 68.2 points per game.
Aside from Espinoza-Hunter, Lauren Park-Lane (17.4 ppg), Hartford native Desiree Elmore (16.3) and Mya Jackson (11.5) all average double-digit scoring. Elmore is also the team leader in rebounds (7.5) and assists (3.2) per game.
In its second game of the season, UConn earned a 92-65 road win over the Pirates. Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards combined for 42 points while Olivia Nelson-Ododa recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Huskies struggled on the defensive end, though. Seton Hall’s 65 points are the most third-most UConn has given up all season, due in large part to a 29-point night from Park-Lane.
UConn is 52-10 all-time against the Pirates.
By the numbers
63 — After Wednesday’s game, UConn will have played Seton Hall more than any other team in program history. The two sides have squared off 63 times.
21.1 — Paige Bueckers is averaging 21.1 points this season. That would be the third-highest mark in a single season in UConn’s history behind only Maya Moore (22.8, 2010-11) and Kerry Bascom (22.6, 1988-89).
5 — UConn has used five different starting lineups this season. Last year, the Huskies used just four.
What to watch for
Evina Westbrook’s status
Against South Carolina, Evina Westbrook played just 24 minutes, her second lowest total of the season. 10 of those minutes came in the first quarter and she only played the final two minutes of the fourth quarter — though she was on the court for all of overtime.
In a vacuum, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal — except on Sunday, Geno Auriemma mentioned that Westbrook will do “as much as she can given where she where she is health-wise,” on defense against South Carolina. The coach declined to go into more detail later on. How she looks and the number of minutes she plays could provide some insight on whether or not she’s dealing with an injury since Auriemma is being tight-lipped on the matter.
Will Auriemma use his bench more?
Coming off a hard-fought, overtime win against South Carolina, UConn will have just one day off before playing Seton Hall. It will be the Huskies’ fourth game in eight days and the team plays again on Friday.
With such a compact schedule and so little time off, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Auriemma use players like Aubrey Griffin, Mir McLean and even Saylor Poffenbarger more to manage the wear and tear on Bueckers — who played every second on Monday night — as well as Edwards, Mühl, Nelson-Ododa and Williams, who all played 30+ minutes in multiple games recently.
Nike-brand basketballs will be used in Wednesday’s game, since that’s an important factor to, ahem, certain coaches.