Monday, March 15, 2010 Updated: April 8, 1:38 PM ET
Bears guard is a bear to guard
By Jeff Caplan ESPNDallas.com
What's truly amazing about LaceDarius Dunn's across-the-board statistics is that he got better against tougher conference competition than nonconference.
The Big 12, the league that won't stop boasting about its No. 1 RPI, couldn't contain the Baylor shooting guard, let alone stop him.
Texas had no recourse, even with the 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior on the bench for the final 15 minutes of the first half in the Bears' Big 12 tournament blowout. Dunn whiplashed the Longhorns in the second half and finished with 19 points, seven assists, nine rebounds and three steals in 22 mesmerizing minutes.
STEPPING IT UP
Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn's production increased during Big 12 play.
Big 12 play
The next night he popped a stingy Kansas State defense for four 3-pointers and 26 points in Baylor's 82-75 loss.
"He has just unlimited scoring ability," Baylor teammate Quincy Acy said. "I've seen it all, in open gym, everywhere and everything. It's almost impossible to guard him."
Now the rest of the nation will get its shot at Dunn as Baylor (25-7) heads to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons and just the third time in 22 years. The No. 3 Bears, wielding their highest seed ever and most balanced attack in memory, seek their first tournament win in 60 years.
Their chance comes Thursday afternoon in New Orleans -- not far from Dunn's hometown of Monroe, La. -- against No. 14 Sam Houston State (25-7).
Already in the Baylor record books as the single-game, single-season and career 3-point leader, Dunn will be the flashing target on scouting tapes. But to define Dunn as only a 3-point bomber would be a mistake. Six of his seven field goals against Texas in the quarterfinal game were 2-pointers. He got to the free throw line six times and drilled the only 3-pointer he attempted.
With a quick first step, Dunn knifes through traffic, penetrates the lane and gets to the rim and the free throw line. His 111 made free throws are tops on the team.
"That's how I've always been. There's not a shot that I don't like and there's not a play that I feel I can't make," Dunn said. "My confidence has always been there."
Despite his impressive statistics, LaceDarius Dunn isn't getting any love from NBA draft prognosticators.
Just check out his season numbers: 19.4 points and 4.8 rebounds -- best among Baylor guards -- 44.2 percent shooting, 42.5 percent from 3-point range, 86.0 percent from the free throw line.
Every category improved as competition stiffened during Big 12 play. His averages jumped to 20.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. He shot 46.8 percent from the field, 47.5 percent on 3-pointers (second in conference) and a conference-best 90.8 percent from the free throw line, a key stat for late-game pressure situations.
"With him, you just let him do his thing," said 6-10 forward Ekpe Udoh, whose emergence has provided Baylor a potent inside-out attack.
Dunn was one of two players during the Big 12 regular season to average at least 20 points and five rebounds. The other was Oklahoma State junior guard James Anderson, the conference player of the year. Anderson and Dunn rank next to each other in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounding.
Projected as a late lottery to mid-first-round pick in the June NBA draft, the 6-6 Anderson will play at the next level next season if he chooses. Dunn? He doesn't even register. At DraftExpress.com, a respected professional scouting service, Dunn is not among the 60 projected first- and second-round picks.
You can't find him on ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford's top 100. For further perspective, Texas 6-2 freshman guard Avery Bradley is averaging 11.7 points and shooting about 32 percent in the past eight games. But he is rated with tremendous upside and ranked by Ford as the 16th overall draft prospect.
The knocks on Dunn are that he's not overly athletic and is too one-dimensional. Yet it won't take long into next season for Dunn to become the fourth player in Baylor history to record 1,500 points and 500 rebounds as he tracks down the program's all-time scoring record.
"Everyone talks about everybody else and people have their opinions," said senior point guard Tweety Carter, who calls Dunn a leading MVP candidate for next season. "He proved himself to the college game that he can play with anybody and that he can score against anybody."
Dunn said he isn't concerned with the NBA, which, if really true, is a seldom-heard claim. So-called hardship stories often hasten a player's desire to get to the league. Dunn and his girlfriend of nine years -- they started dating in the seventh grade -- are raising 2-year-old son Dillon while living in a small apartment in Waco.
"I just feel like the next level is going to be there. I'm going to take advantage of my four years in college," Dunn said. "Once you lose this you can't get it back. I'm going to come back next year, and hopefully I'll have a better year."
If all goes as planned, Dunn will leave Baylor with several basketball records and one family record.
"My first goal is to get my paper," said Dunn, on track to earn a general studies degree. "That's something my mom always encouraged me to do. I would be the first in my family to ever do that."
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.