LAWRENCE, Kan. — It’s 550 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and …
"I don’t really like it," Jamari Traylor said.
"I don’t know," the Kansas forward continued. "(But) I’ll roll with it. If somebody thought of giving me a nickname, I’ll roll with it, too."
Well, alrighty then.
The "Bruise Brothers" it is.
"It’s a cool nickname, and it fits us," Tarik Black, the Joliet Jake to Traylor’s Elwood (or vice versa), offered after the Jayhawks outlasted West Virginia, 83-69, to open up a two-game lead atop the Big 12 Conference.
"We go out there and play hard. (We have) more than just the two of us. I’m surrounded by players who play physically. We have a lot more people to add to that nickname."
True enough, but as Saturday’s tilt showed, those two forwards — Bill Self’s Option 1 and 1A off the bench — are the epitome of the concept.
Black, a fifth-year senior transfer from Memphis, is a 6-foot-9, 260-pound (and occasionally foul-prone) block of granite. Traylor is the 6-8, 220-pounder from the Windy City with the hardscrabble backstory (during one stretch as a teen, he was sleeping in abandoned cars, buildings, anything he could find) and the kangaroo hops.
Collectively, they’re a jolt of energy to the Kansas lineup if it’s sagging, a welcome relief if starters Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis get into early foul trouble, or — more often — some combination of the two. In the case of Saturday, both scenarios applied. With the aforementioned Embiid-Ellis combo battling foul issues against the Mountaineers, it was Black (11 points, four rebounds in 21 minutes) and Traylor (seven points, three boards in 18 minutes) to the rescue.
"We didn’t have a drop-off at all when we went to Tarik, (Traylor), and Frank (Mason)," Self said. "That turned out to be a real positive for us."
Ellis picked up his second foul with 14:43 left in the first half. Embiid got slapped with his second with 8:10 to go, then battled back problems in the second half. Despite the two post starters combining for just 12 minutes of the game’s first 20, KU (18-5 overall, 9-1 Big 12) outscored the Mountaineers (14-10, 6-5) in the paint in the first half, 30-8, to take a 43-36 lead into the break.
Black (eight points) and Traylor (seven, three boards) set the mood: Nasty, with a side of "Not In My House."
"They were great in the first half," Self said. "They didn’t play as much in the second half — but certainly, in the first half, they were the main reason we had the lead."
And one of the central reasons why the Jayhawks have pole position on a 10th straight Big 12 regular-season title. What Wichita State offers, depth-wise, in terms of starting guards, Kansas matches in terms of quality big men. If you stop one, or if foul trouble removes one from the stage, another hoss steps up to take his place. It’s like rows of teeth on a great white shark.
"I try to come in and bring energy," said Traylor, who’s averaging 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds. "(In) some ways, I think maybe it’s the chemistry as far as the two ‘bigs’ — Perry and Jo spend a lot of time at practice against each other; we go up and down.
We go out there and play hard. (We have) more than just the two of us. I’m surrounded by players who play physically. We have a lot more people to add to that nickname.
-- Tarik Black
"And me and Tarik are usually on the same team throughout practice most of the time. So that may be why (we have that chemistry), possibly. I’m not really sure. But I think that could have a little something to do with it."
Whatever. There’s a comfort there, on both sides. A synergy.
A bruising synergy, now that you mention it.
Like the man said, it fits.
"I would say so," said Mason, who added five points and five assists off the bench.
Embiid was quiet (11 points, 11 boards, three blocks), at least by Embiid standards, until the final five minutes. Ellis (eight points, five rebounds) was even more of a wallflower than usual after missing some early bunnies.
Didn’t matter. Not a whit.
"We kind of had the game where we wanted it," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins mused. "Sort of."
Then the Bruise Brothers stepped in. Just like on the poster.