Southern Conference Basketball in Asheville

Downtown Asheville

Downtown Asheville

After a cold and rainy week, the skies cleared and sunlight warmed the muddy ground last Saturday. My friend Jen and I drove up to Asheville for the Southern Conference tournament – where our alma mater Davidson College played its first game in the quarterfinal round on Saturday. The snow melted weeks ago in Charlotte, but a dusting of winter remained along I-40 as we drove west towards the mountains.

The tournament was held in the U.S. Cellular center in downtown Asheville, bringing in droves of fans decked out in collegiate wear. Even though Asheville’s only about a two hour drive from Charlotte, the city’s artsy vibe and historic charm reminds me of San Francisco. Tournament visitors gathered around street performers downtown, including a knife juggler that we watched from a safe distance.

SoCon  tournament

SoCon tournament

Davidson beat Samford by a significant margin, though the Wildcats got knocked out of the tournament in the next round by Western Carolina (a shock after 2 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament). A stand out star on the women’s team during our time at Davidson, my friend Jen was inducted into the college’s athletic hall of fame in 2011. As my athletic resume includes only JV soccer in high school, I enjoyed listening to her expert commentary on the game.

Davidson Men's Bball

Coach McKillop calls plays during a timeout

After the game, we sat on the patio for a late lunch and prime people watching at Mayfel’s. One of the downtown restaurants often running a wait list, Mayfel’s offers Louisiana-inspired southern cuisine (i.e. po’ boys and shrimp and grits) and a Bloody Mary bar. I devoured my hamburger sans bun and sweet potato fries, but eyed my dining companions’ decadent po’ boys with envy. We stopped in at the Kress Emporium after lunch, where I like to pick out paintings to buy with my imaginary art budget. Housed in the historic Kress department store building, the emporium sells regional creations from photography and paintings to jewelry and pottery.

After checking in at the Hampton Inn on Tunnel Road, we sipped on (surprisingly good) free coffee while watching a few episodes of the Millionaire Matchmaker. We then headed to UNC-Asheville to watch the Davidson women’s basketball team, catching magnificent views of the sun setting behind the mountains. The women also defeated Samford (the team went on to win in the semi-final round but lost to Chattanooga in the finals).

Sunset from UNC-Asheville

Sunset from UNC-Asheville

We ended the night meeting other Davidson alums for drinks at Pack’s Tavern – watching Duke beat UNC on TV and a dance party unfold. I can usually find common ground with most Davidsonians after a drink or two, as the college still embraces many long-held traditions despite many changes since our graduation.

With Davidson joining the Atlantic 10 conference next year, this was the last hurrah for an easy road trip to see our team play in the conference tournament. Next year, the Wildcats will face off against new opponents in Madison Square Garden in NYC.

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