03/24/2006 1:00AM

NCAA selections and analysis for Saturday


LAS VEGAS - Thursday's regional semifinals had it all.

There was Memphis, a 6-point favorite over Bradley, jumping out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, letting Bradley get back in the game, and the having another 7-point run to start the second half to coast to an easy 80-64 victory. That let everyone concentrate on the Duke-LSU contest. Duke was a 6-point favorite, but LSU showed early that it could stand up to the No. 1 seed. Down the stretch, LSU outhustled and even outsmarted Duke to pull off the 62-54 outright upset.

But as thrilling as that was (especially for those of us with bets on LSU), the nightcaps both had fantastic finishes. Texas, which closed as a 4 1/2-point favorite at the Stardust, looked like it was going to put away West Virginia, but the Mountaineers kept battling back and tied it on a Kevin Pittsnogle 3-pointer with five seconds remaining in regulation only to have see Texas push the ball up the floor and have Kenton Paulino hit the game-winning trey as time expired for a 74-71 victory. Then, UCLA, a 3 1/ 2-point favorite over Gonzaga, rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit and nine points with three minutes to play. As close as they got, it looked as if the Bruins would have to send Gonzaga to the foul line late, but a steal by Jordan Farmer and pass to a wide-open Luc Richard Mbah a Moute under the basket gave UCLA the lead at 72-71. Gonzaga pushed the ball up the floor but didn't have the same result at Texas, and a free throw gave UCLA the final 73-71.

In both those games, the favorite won but didn't cover. For the night, underdogs went 3-1 against the spread and are 28-25 for the tournament, including the play-in game, against the Stardust's closing line.

Three of the four games went over the total - the Duke-LSU contest being the exception - but unders still have a 31-22 edge.

Looking ahead to Saturday's games

In the Atlanta Regional, Texas opened as a solid 3-point favorite over LSU in Las Vegas (some offshore books opened at 2 1/2 before moving to 3). After everyone was trying to figure out what the Memphis-Gonzaga line would be (one offshore book posted Memphis -4 1/2 before taking it down), UCLA pulled off its miracle comeback and Memphis was made a 2 1/2-point favorite over the Bruins and by Friday morning it had been bet up to 3 1/2 at most Vegas books.

I have yet to get a good handle on either Memphis or UCLA, so I'm not making an official bankroll play on that game, though if I had a gun to my head - and since I've been making selections on all tournament games, that's the same thing - I'd side with Memphis, but mostly because the Tigers keep proving the naysayers wrong, including yours truly.

But I really love the underdog in the other matchup.

LSU (+3) vs. Texas

I stated in Thursday's Daily Racing Form that I was impressed with LSU's win over Texas A&M even though I lost a bet in that game. Well, LSU's upset of Duke was even more impressive, not just because they did it but how they did it. When I thought the Tigers could play with the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils, I certainly didn't' handicap that Glen "Big Baby" Davis would get in early foul trouble. However, the rest of the team stepped up, especially star-in-the-making Tyrus Thomas and Darnell Lazare off the bench. And after leading most of the game, LSU would have still been lauded for its effort if it had folded when Duke actually went up by five points with about nine minutes to play, but the Tigers fought back to take control down the stretch. Texas is a very good team in its own right, and it will be a battle on the boards, but LSU can match Texas in all phases in the game and I'm looking for the outright upset, though I'll certainly take the 3-point head start.

PLAY: LSU for 1 unit.

Selections for March 25 games

At Atlanta, Ga.

Texas (-3) vs. LSU Pick: LSU

At Oakland, Calif.

Memphis (-2.5) vs. UCLA Pick: Memphis

Best bet in CAPS.

Thursday's bankroll record: 1-1 for a net loss of 0.1 units (based on laying 1.1. units to win 1). Bankroll record for tourney: 10-9 for a net profit of 0.1 units. Website record on all tourney games: 27-25-1 through Thursday.