COLUMBIA, Mo. -- There are reasons to believe West Virginia's basketball team is on the way to putting things together.
Not just tonight in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against unbeaten Missouri, but beyond that into Big 12 play and later a push for what had been an expected postseason bid before a nine-year streak was interrupted with last season's 13-19 record.
The Mountaineers score more and easier and jump shots go in at a far greater rate than what spectators had gotten used to in the past few years.
Players get along and appreciate a teammate who passes the ball as much as one who runs the floor on offense or defense.
There's visible proof WVU takes lessons from practice, something seen Monday when the same team that was outrebounded 37-27 in a Cancun Classic loss to then-No. 10 Wisconsin turned around and beat up Loyola 62-22 on the boards - the most rebounds in a game since 1991.
"Obviously coming back from Cancun I wasn't very happy with the way we were rebounding the ball," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "We've emphasized it a great deal. I'm still not very happy with what it was."
Perhaps most promising of all is that WVU is getting healthy and confident all at once and at the beginning of the teeth of the non-conference schedule.
The Mountaineers lost Terry Henderson, Gary Browne and Remi Dibo for extended stretches either just before the start of the season or within the first few games, but they've healed, practiced, played and blended themselves into a team that's 6-2 as it plays the Tigers (7-0) at Mizzou Arena.
WVU then hosts Gonzaga on Tuesday, plays Marshall at the Charleston Civic Center Dec. 14 and gets Purdue at home Dec. 22.
Missouri won the Las Vegas Invitational with wins against Gardner Webb, IUPUI, Northwestern and Nevada. Tonight's game, televised on ESPN2, will be Missouri's first since Nov. 29.
"They've got big guards," Huggins said. "They have bigger, more athletic guards than anybody we've played at this point. They're probably the most athletic team we've played to this point and they want to play fast.
"If we don't do a better job blocking out higher and keeping them from pushing us under the basket, it's going to be a long night for us on the glass. And, obviously, we're going to have to make some shots."
The Mountaineers are not unarmed, though. Browne, who injured his right thigh early in the season and missed the Duquesne game and was limited in others, has handled his role as a backup guard. He spells Juwan Staten at point guard and has only seven turnovers while averaging 19 minutes a game, but he's also played with Staten as a shooting guard and shot the ball better than he ever has before in his career (54.8 percent from the floor, 57.1 percent from 3-point range).