KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anyone expecting a two-outta-three-ain’t-bad vibe from West Virginia’s locker room misunderstood the mission.

These Mountaineers craved a Big 12 championship. Not because their NCAA lives depended on it, but because their pride did.

Back-to-back second-place finishers in the regular season and now two-time runners-up at Sprint Center. These guys can’t quite crack the conference winners’ circle, and it irks them more than a Doug Sirmons technical.

“We fell short again,” Tarik Phillip said. “End of story.”

Two outta three against Iowa State this season didn’t satisfy when Monte Morris came trotting through the hall wearing a net as a turtle neck.

Two outta three in Kansas City this week didn’t impress when unconvincing stretches littered both ends of the floor.

“We didn’t play well against Texas, we didn’t play well against Kansas State, and we sure didn’t play well today,” coach Bob Huggins said after losing 80-74 to the Cyclones at their home away from home.

In that environment, it’s hardly a catastrophe coming up six points shy to a team Naz Mitrou-Long self-appointed as the hottest in the country. The worrisome part stems from what occurred over three Big 12 tournament games:

• Press Virginia created 36 turnovers and committed 33 — a margin that henceforth won’t suffice.
• After a recent uptick in free-throw shooting, the Mountaineers regressed to making 28-of-52.
• And it’s hard to get excited over a plus-10 composite edge on the glass considering West Virginia faced the three worst rebounding teams in the conference.

Stuffing sneakers into a backpack, Nathan Adrian carried no delusions about WVU’s performance quality here. “We’ve got to play better than we did these three days,” he said, not excusing his own inefficiency, which added up to 7-of-23 shooting and zero points at the foul line.

“I don’t think we’re playing together as well as we used to,” Adrian said. “There’s a lot to it, but absolutely it can come back. It’s just a matter of taking these next five or so days to get better.”

So it’s back to Morgantown and back to practice for whatever path the NCAA bracket lays out Sunday. There’s quite a to-do list, though Huggins wasn’t in too foul a mood to poke the selection committee over West Virginia’s seeding.

“I don’t know. I would think a 3 or a 4, and we’ll play somebody in the second round, somebody like Cincinnati or Kentucky,” he said.

“I don’t know how the numbers always work out that way, but somehow they find a way for the numbers to work out where (John Calipari) and I end up in the same region all the time. I don’t think they could stand both of us at the Final Four.”

With renewed cohesion and fewer clanked free throws, the Mountaineers could be playing three weekends from now in Phoenix. Should their flaws continue to take precedence, it could be SFA all over.

How they reboot between now and the next tipoff will define the margin.

Phillip needed no basketball jargon to spell out the solution: “Just got to go execute. Just got to go win the damn game.”

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