03/25/2002 1:00AM

A sweet weekend for some bettors


Last weekend, Nevada's sports books were less full than during the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, but the noise level was nearly as high.

Instead of standing-room-only crowds cheering (and jeering) at three and four games at a time, books had near-capacity crowds with everyone focusing on just two simultaneous games Thursday and Friday nights and single games on Saturday and Sunday.

As expected, the betting lines were tighter during the second weekend of games as bookmakers were able to gauge public perception more accurately and zero in on the best numbers to balance their action. But there were several instances in which bettors were able to shop for the best lines, and that made all the difference, especially as the number of betting opportunities dwindled.

In Saturday's West Regional final, Oklahoma opened as a 5 1/2-point favorite over Missouri and was bet up to 6. Some books got enough money that they raised Oklahoma to 6 1/2. The two Big Eight schools fought a close battle with the Sooners' second-half lead hovering around the spread. Clutch free-throw shooting helped Oklahoma hold on for an 81-75 victory. The smart money was from people who bet Oklahoma sooner rather than later.

Some books that took considerable Missouri action at +6 1/2 were middled.

Another game finished within a half-point of the spread on Sunday, but most books had balanced action. Maryland opened as an 8 1/2-point favorite over Connecticut. Some books went to 8 and some to 9, but most were back to 8 1/2 by game time. When Maryland won 90-82 (and it took a Steve Blake 3-pointer and some late foul shots to get it that close to the number), the vast majority of Maryland bettors were still losers. Bettors who shopped around for Maryland -8 at least got their bets refunded.

In all, favorites were 5-6-1 over the second week of NCAA action and hold a 31-26-3 edge for the tournament. All four of Friday's regional semifinals went under to even the over/under ledger at 27-27-2, but then all four games on Saturday and Sunday went over. That meant books were hurt by the popular favorite/ over parlay, which came in on the Kent-Indiana and Kansas-Oregon games. Bettors who had Oklahoma -6 (a push) and the over had their tickets reduced to a straight bet on the over, which won.

* My Sweet 16 selections were 2-2 on both Thursday and Friday to keep me at .500 for the tournament with a record of 9-9-1.

* Early line moves were 2-2 and are 13-8 (62 percent) for the tournament. The early moves for Saturday's Final Four matchups were on Oklahoma, bet from a 4 1/2- to a 5 1/2-point favorite over Indiana, and Maryland, bet from +1 to pick-em vs. Kansas, though Kansas was bet back up to a 1-point choice as of noon Monday.

* Las Vegas Sports Consultants has made Kansas the 8-5 favorite to win the title, followed by Maryland (9-5), Oklahoma (2-1) and Indiana (8-1).

Fertile field

Playing the field was the way to go in golf and NASCAR betting last weekend.

Craig Perks came from relative obscurity to win The Players Championship, considered to be golf's fifth major. Jeff Sherman, who sets golf odds at The Palms, didn't have Perks among the 49 individual players listed because Perks had never won a PGA event. Instead, bettors who took a shot on the field at 10-1 were winners when Perks chipped in on the final hole to clinch the victory. One of the perks of his victory is an automatic spot in The Masters on April 11-14. Sherman said Perks will again be in the field for that event (also at 10-1).

Las Vegan Kurt Busch won his first Winston Cup race Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Speedway. The Palms had 19 drivers listed on its odds, but Busch was also lumped into the field at 10-1. Busch showed his gambling roots by forgoing a late pit stop and running the last 157 laps without a change of tires.

Psst. Denzel's a sure thing

Several Las Vegas sports books posted Academy Awards odds for entertainment purposes only. Nevada books aren't allowed to take bets on such events because they involve a vote and someone knows the winners' names in the envelopes.

On Sunday, several online forums were flooded with people claiming there was a leak and Denzel Washington would win the Oscar for Best Actor. Washington was between 2-1 and 3-1 as the second choice in the betting behind Russell Crowe, but several offshore books reportedly got a run of money on Washington and either dropped his odds drastically (even-money at thegreek.com) or closed down all Oscar wagering (bet365.com). Sure enough, Washington won.

Baseball in Sin City

Las Vegas sports fans tired of sitting at home watching games or in sports books are able to catch an exhibition between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Cashman Field.

Unfortunately, Big League Weekend, which used to include several major-league teams playing their last exhibition games in Vegas, is a thing of the past, but this game will still be a sell-out. Last year, the Dodgers defeated the Diamondbacks 5-4 with a ninth-inning rally in front of 11,788 fans.

The Las Vegas 51s are the AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, and the Diamondbacks are the defending World Series champion, so this will be a hot ticket. If you go, arrive early. Last year, the lines to get in were 50-60 people deep even after the opening pitch. I know, because I missed it.