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June Mar Fajardo has been the weakest link in the defensive formation of Gilas Pilipinas during their friendly game against Lithuania. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SBP

It took only eight players to completely expose the biggest weakness of Gilas Pilipinas.

An eight-man Lithuanian squad took advantage of the defensive lapses of Gilas Pilipinas during a friendly match that was part of the preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup that the Philippines will host from 25 August to 10 September.

Ranged against taller, more accurate foes, the Filipinos greatly struggled with no less than six-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo falling prey to the lightning-quick offensive assaults of the Europeans during their 80-90 loss in an exhibition match in Kaunas.

Gilas coach Chot Reyes admitted their lapses, saying that they badly need games like that to determine their weaknesses and plot solutions with still more than a month left before the prestigious 32-nation tournament.

“This is part of the process,” Reyes said.

“We wanted to play a team with five shooters. We wanted to see how June Mar is defending ball screens and pick-and-pops against three-point shooters. June Mar had 10 points in the first half but his man had 20 points.”

“That’s something we need to work on. It’s an area where unless we won’t experience it, then we won’t really know how to address it.”

Reyes said no matter how bitter the setback is, they have to swallow for them to get better.

“Now that we’ve learned it, it’s now upon us to figure out ways to defend when there’s a three-point shooting big man from an opposing team,” he said.

“Those are the things that we wanted to learn. That’s why we played a team like this because we knew this is the kind of player June Mar and our other players are going to face.”

Gilas welcomed an extra warm big body as naturalized player Ange Kouame rejoined the pool and teamed up with Justin Brownlee for the first time.

‘This is part of the process.’

Kouame missed the first part of their European trip in Estonia as he had to attend his graduation ceremony at Ateneo de Manila University.

He, however, was given a baptism of fire as Reyes deployed him at the center spot for six minutes with Japeth Aguilar as power forward and Brownlee as small forward.

But the Lithuanians were simply too hot to handle.

Tomas Zdanavicius, a Euroleague veteran who cut his teeth with the Lithuanian youth squad, was unstoppable, firing 25 points on a sizzling 6-of-7 from the three-point area with seven rebounds and four assists while Vytautus Sulskis chipped in 19 markers for the Lithuanians, who led by as many as 24 points, 54-30, in the second quarter.

Brownlee led the way for the Filipinos with 20 points, including four three-pointers, together with seven rebounds and four blocks.

Jamie Malonzo nearly had a double-double performance of 14 points and nine boards and was relentless on the defensive end with six steals.

The 6-foot-10 Fajardo had 10 points in the first half but was slowed down in the next 20 minutes where he could only produce three more while Kiefer Ravena contributed 10.

“At the start, we had some good looks that were not falling, that’s why they were able to get that early run,” said Reyes, referring to Gilas’ 19-36 deficit at the end of the first period.

“This team defended us in a different way. They were not pressuring, the way they pressured the passing lanes, unlike the two teams we played.”

“That’s one thing we also need to learn, how to attack teams that defend this way. Offense was not our problem, but it was our defense. We need to figure out a game like this where we were scoring well, but we cannot stop our opponents. We have to find that balance where we were scoring well and defending well.”

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