It was nearly an hour after Kansas’ 83-69 victory over West Virginia on Saturday afternoon, another workmanlike performance from a team on a Big 12 mission, and Jamari Traylor was standing on the floor of Allen Fieldhouse.
The conversation had turned to nicknames, some sort of playful discussion that only happens after wins, and this is where things got a little uncomfortable. Somewhere along the line, people have started calling Traylor and senior forward Tarik Black “The Bruise Brothers,” and Traylor was pondering the new tag.
“I don’t really like it,” said Traylor, an explosive sophomore forward. “But I’ll roll with it if somebody thought of giving me a nickname. I’ll roll with it.”
On Saturday, there was little else to say. If the Jayhawks were going to notch another win on their path to a 10th straight Big 12 title, you might as well roll with this: Traylor and Black had come off the bench and combined for 18 points and seven rebounds on six-of-six shooting, and the Jayhawks’ deep frontcourt had flexed its muscles with another sterling performance.
Consider what happened here during the first half: Freshman center Joel Embiid and sophomore Perry Ellis had combined for just four points, and Kansas had still scored 30 of its first 43 points in the paint.
“It’s a cool nickname and it fits us,” said Black, who finished with 11 points and four rebounds. “We go out there and play hard.”
The chemistry between the two reserves, Traylor says, started to come together during the long practice sessions over winter break. Embiid and Ellis usually take most of the reps with the starting five, so Traylor and Black are often on the same team during practice. At times, it can feel a little like watching a hockey line change with two enforcers, two players that share the same traits: Strength, toughness, desire.
When Black and Traylor start flying around the paint, it can feel a little chaotic, a little unpredictable. There are body parts flying, and hard screens, and presumably a lot of bruises.
“I think we go out there and play hard and just look for each other when we can,” said Traylor, who had seven points. “We just have the chemistry.”
In that way, Black and Traylor were just what Kansas needed to handle a potential trap game against a rejuvenated West Virginia. In the moments before the opening tip, the final score from Kansas State’s victory over Texas in Manhattan flashed on the Allen Fieldhouse video board. The Wildcats had rolled, and for once, Allen Fieldhouse was breaking into a polite applause for its in-state rival.
Texas’ loss had dropped the Longhorns to 7-3 in the Big 12, and the Jayhawks were 40 minutes away from extending their Big 12 lead to a full two games.
It was, in many respects, an unorthodox formula for a victory. Embiid was a nonfactor early, spending most of the day in foul trouble. Junior guard Naadir Tharpe was just one of six from the floor before hitting a three-pointer during a decisive late run.
But Kansas found other ways to take control. The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 46-18 in the paint. Black and Traylor picked up the slack inside. And freshman Andrew Wiggins kept driving … and kept getting to the free-throw line. He finished with 19 points while hitting seven of 10 from the line.
“I tried to be aggressive and get into the lane,” Wiggins said. “I do what I can to draw contact and get to the foul line.”
Wiggins was also able to keep West Virginia sharpshooter Eron Harris in check after three early three-pointers gave the Mountaineers a small lead in the first half. Harris was zero for four from the floor in the second half, and West Virginia shot just 39.6 percent for the game.
“I tried to turn him into a shooter instead of a driver,” Wiggins said.
So now the Jayhawks are 18-5 overall and 9-1 in the Big 12 with a showdown looming against K-State at Bramlage Coliseum on Monday. The civil “thank you” to Kansas State on Saturday afternoon? Probably not extending to Monday night Manhattan.
“We need to be pretty intent the next 48 hours,” Self said.
The Jayhawks are still young, of course, and the focus can still wane at times — perhaps part of the reason they led just 69-65 with 5 minutes left on Saturday. And maybe that’s also what happened to Embiid, who picked up his fourth foul with nearly 10 minutes left. That opened the door for the Bruise Brothers, but Embiid still managed to finish with 11 points and 12 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
“I said to him after the game, ‘You didn’t play a lick today, and you had 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks,’ ” Self said. “And so that’s pretty good production for a guy that didn’t get to play a lot. But we’d be such a better team if he’s able to play 30.”
This is most definitely true. But Saturday was a reminder of the Jayhawks’ other weapon — the one that has nothing to do with star freshmen or potential lottery picks. The Jayhawks have the sort of depth that can leave a major mark. You know, like a bruise.
So by late on Saturday evening, Traylor was reconsidering his position. Maybe the nickname could stay. You know, Traylor thought, it would look pretty good on one of those retro posters from the 1980s.
“It would look good, so I’m not saying don’t put it on a poster,” Traylor said. “I wouldn’t mind being on a poster.”