Gilas Pilipinas -- the latest version, anyway -- played two friendly games against archrivals Korea on Friday and Saturday at the Anyang Gymnasium in Gyeonggi-Do, and ended up dropping both games, both by four points.
It's always tough to win in hostile territory, and Gilas' chances of going home with at least one win were dampened even before they could board their flight after naturalized center Ange Kouame and forward Dave Ildefonso were stricken off the roster with injuries.
With no time to name replacements, interim coach Nenad Vucinic had to go into battle with just 10 men -- and that number was reduced to just nine early in the second game after LeBron Lopez limped off the court with an ankle injury.
The remaining players hung tough, but the home team simply had too much firepower in the end.
Both games, actually, followed a similar pattern: Gilas would erect a double-digit lead in the first half, then Korea would unleash a barrage of three-point shots in the second half to seize control.
Here are five thoughts on the pair of friendlies:
Mixed results for the debutants
NCAA MVP Rhenz Abando and incoming La Salle Green Archers center Kevin Quiambao were the only players making their Gilas debuts. Of the two, it was Abando who played like he belonged at the senior level, averaging 15 points per game on 7-of-9 shooting from three-point range.
Abando dropped 11 points in just ten minutes in the first game, and that outburst likely earned him more minutes from Vucinic as his playing time doubled to 20 minutes in the second game, where he scored 19.
Quiambao, a 6-foot-7 21-year-old, got some exposure at the center slot following Kouame's injury, and did okay in his senior team bow. In around 16 minutes per game, Quiambao averaged four points, three rebounds and one block, although there were times he looked helpless against the agile bigs of Korea, who were led by former PBA import Ricardo Ratliffe.
The might of Dwight
While Kiefer Ravena was the elder statesman of this Gilas iteration, Dwight Ramos was unquestionably its A1 player.
The Japan B.League veteran averaged 23.5 points, and at times looked like the best player on the floor for either team, especially during the second game where he poured in 31 points on a ridiculous 10-of-12 shooting on two-point shots and 3-of-5 on triples.
The Koreans didn't have anyone who could guard Ramos, who even showed his hops with a nasty two-handed jam in the second game. Makes you wonder what if he had played in Hanoi last month -- when Gilas relinquished their stranglehold on the Southeast Asian Games gold medal to Indonesia.
Vucinic and the three-point shot
It's not really advisable to read too much into exhibition games, but you can't help but read into an interesting stat: Gilas averaged 40 three-point attempts over the two games, shooting 35% (28 of 80).
Whether they were just reacting to what the defense was giving them or executing Vucinic's coaching philosophy can't be accurately determined over two friendlies. But players like Abando and RJ Abarrientos routinely stepped into transition threes, and Vucinic appeared okay with it.
It will be interesting to see if this pattern holds in the next window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers. In contrast, the Gilas team in Hanoi averaged only around 25 attempts per game.
Who will man the paint?
Kouame's knee injury has left a big hole in the middle for Gilas, at least for the next FIBA window and the FIBA Asia Cup next month.
Vucinic rotated Quiambao, Carl Tamayo and Geo Chiu down low against the Koreans, and it remains to be seen who else will be tapped to beef up the front court. Of the four PBA rookies tapped by Chot Reyes to join the Gilas pool, only the Converge FiberXers' Justin Arana is a big man.
Kai Sotto's next few weeks are still murky as he tries to make it to the NBA, while Justine Baltazar has already begged off to prepare for his stint in Japan.
The only other members of the Gilas pool who stand at least 6-foot-6 are Emilio Aguinaldo College's Allen Liwag and Gilas Youth standout Caelum Harris, who are listed at 6-6 and 6-7, respectively. Harris, though, is more of a wing player. Perhaps a surprise addition will surface in the next few weeks.
Gilas passed the rock a lot
Despite dropping both games, Gilas actually averaged more assists than Korea, 27 to 21. In the second game, the visitors logged 31 assists, led by Ravena's eight, and every player had at least one.
In the first game, only Abando failed to register at least one assist, with Tamayo, Will Navarro and SJ Belangel sharing top honors with four each. Overall, the ball movement of Gilas was good.
Korea just had more weapons -- and way more free throws (44 to 19 overall).