ATHENS (Aug. 26, 2004) -- It wasn't supposed to end like this for Pau Gasol and Spain. Not after the way things were going in this Olympics.

The Spaniards finished group play an undefeated 5-0. They methodically topped everyone from Manu Ginobili and Argentina to Yao Ming and China. They were clicking as a team. And with his aggressive drives to the hoop and towering defense, Gasol himself was playing some of the best basketball of his career.

Gasol had 29 points in a losing effort against the U.S. on Thursday.
(Garrett Ellwood
NBAE/Getty Images)
But then in the medal round they were pitted against a talented U.S. team that had righted itself after a slow start. (Spain's reward for winning every game was a date with Tim Duncan and company?) And suddenly, after a hard-fought quarterfinal game that saw the Spaniards hang with the potent American roster until late in the game, they were out of the Olympics.

Somehow it just didn't feel right.

"I'm not exhausted, but I'm hurt," said Gasol after the game. "That was a big chance. We had a great opportunity to make a statement; to beat the U.S. and go to the semifinals and get a lot of respect. But it didn't really work out for us."

Such is the nature of the "one-and-done" medal round, where a team like Spain goes abruptly from being a favorite for the gold to having no shot at a medal. This didn't sit well with China coach, and neutral observer, Del Harris, who suggested in his own post-game press conference that the single-elimination format might need to be rethought after seeing a team like Spain eliminated after losing just one game.

Understandably, Gasol also felt slightly short-changed.

"It's tough; we deserve better than to be out before the semifinals," said Gasol. "We have a great team and we deserve to be in the semifinals and play for a medal."

Gasol's sense of entitlement is justified, especially considering the numbers he's put up so far in the Olympics. The Grizzlies forward had 29 points, six rebounds and two blocks in the quarterfinal loss. For the tournament, Gasol is averaging 20.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.00 blocks.

But more than his numbers, Gasol became the heart and soul of a talented, young Spanish team. He punctuated swooping dunks with fist-pumps and howls. The offense consistently flowed through him. And when Spain needed a basket, he was the one with the ball in his hands.

Still, a record day from Stephon Marbury coupled with solid low-post performances from Lamar Odom, Carlos Boozer and Tim Duncan were too much for Spain to overcome.

"It's hard to beat [the United States] when they're shooting the ball this well," said Gasol. "There's not a lot of teams that can beat them when they're that hot and playing well together. I think they played very much as a team, and they seemed very motivated. They did their job."

Unfortunately for Gasol, Spain's work is over before it got a chance to begin.