MORGANTOWN - West Virginia came back from the Cancun Challenge in Mexico with a split of two games, but perhaps much more than that.
Bob Huggins might disagree, at least publicly. After all, the Mountaineers had a chance to win two games and only won one. A victory over Old Dominion was followed by a close loss to No. 10 Wisconsin.
"I thought we could win,'' Huggins said Sunday.
Still, even in losing West Virginia perhaps gained something. A young team trying to rebuild and find its way back from last year's 13-19 disaster of a season went toe to toe with a Top 10 team. It now has five wins in seven games to start the season. It is developing reliable scorers.
And, perhaps most of all, it is gaining confidence and togetherness.
"We wanted to win and we didn't and that's disappointing,'' sophomore guard Eron Harris said. "But we got out of [the trip] what wanted to get out of it. We got closer as a team and we proved we can play."
The Mountaineers (5-2) return to the court tonight with a home game against Loyola of Maryland (4-1) in a 7 p.m. game at the Coliseum. It is the first of four games in 13 days before the schedule eases somewhat with only two games in the next 20 days. Then Big 12 play starts.
This stretch of games - it also includes a trip to Missouri, a home game with Gonzaga and the Dec. 14 game with Marshall in Charleston - provides the Mountaineers with a good mix of challenges, from Top 25 teams (No. 11 Gonzaga) to road trips (Missouri) and a rivalry game (Marshall). Tonight, Loyola presents another challenge in a prolific scorer. Senior guard Dylon Cormier is second in the country in scoring, averaging 28.4 points.
In other words, these are the types of challenges West Virginia will face all season long. So having gone to Mexico and played down to the wire before losing 70-61 to Wisconsin can't do anything but help.
"It was a learning experience,'' said Harris, himself proving to be a rather prolific scorer while averaging 21.1 points through seven games. "Wisconsin was a big game for a lot of our guys that haven't played that level of competition. ... The next time we play a big team like that, we'll be better prepared.''