ST. LOUIS — John Calipari stood frozen on the Kentucky sideline. Every player on the Wichita State bench held his breath. Everything seemed to stop inside the Scottrade Center as Fred VanVleet let loose with a 3-pointer that could have kept the Shockers perfect.
When it bounced off the rim, everything was set in motion again.
Calipari leaped into the air, bad hip and all, as the eighth-seeded Wildcats poured off their bench to celebrate their 78-76 NCAA Tournament third-round victory over the Midwest Region's top seed on Sunday.
The players from Wichita State slumped to their seats, their faces buried in their jerseys. They would not be the first team with a perfect season since Indiana in 1976. They finish 35-1.
"I've been doing this so long. I've been in wars," Calipari said later.
"You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four."
It certainly had that kind of drama.
Andrew Harrison had 20 points, twin Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (26-10), who play rival Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Indianapolis.
Cleanthony Early scored 31 and Ron Baker 20 for the Shockers, who hadn't lost since last year's Final Four.
"You're going to go through some humps in your life, kind of like this one," Baker said. "It's tough to see us go out like this. At the end of the day, someone's got to go home."
The showdown matched the traditional Division I powerhouse with eight national titles against a gritty bunch of upstarts from Wichita State.
The game went back and forth the entire way, Kentucky taking a 73-71 lead when James Young hit a 3-pointer with less than two minutes left. Early answered with a basket for Wichita State, and Andrew Harrison made two free throws for Kentucky. Baker banked in a 3 for the Shockers, and Randle made two more free throws for the Wildcats.
"Both teams were making plays," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said, wearily. "Back and forth, back and forth."
TENN. 83, MERCER 63: Tennessee denied the Bears a second straight upset in one-sided fashion behind Jarnell Stokes' 17 points and career-high-tying 18 rebounds in Raleigh, N.C.
Josh Richardson had a career-high 26 points and Antonio Barton had 18 for the 11th-seeded Vols (24-12), who are making the most of their first tournament appearance since 2011.
"NIT two straight years, I guess that's what you'd call starting from the bottom," Stokes said. "A lot of people doubted us, and that just makes the ride much better."
Tennessee joined Florida and Kentucky in the region semifinals, the first time three Southeastern Conference teams have made it that far since 2007. Langston Hall had 15 points for the 14th-seeded Bears (27-9), who shocked No. 3-seeded Duke two days earlier.