Darriel Gaynor has been thinking quite a bit about life this week.
Mississippi State has been a big part of her life for the past three years.
As the only senior player for the MSU women's basketball team, Gaynor will be recognized during the final home game of the season tonight against Georgia. The battle of the Bulldogs tips off at 7 p.m.
Gaynor has reflected on her time at Mississippi State and Humphrey Coliseum with teammates, coaches and fans very fondly in the last few days.
It has been emotional at times, but those around her have made Gaynor understand it's a happy situation.
"My coaches are trying to get me to have fun with it," Gaynor said. "My teammates have been encouraging and let me know they have my back. I've tried to keep high spirits."
Gaynor's journey to MSU started when she left Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nev,. and attended the University of Oregon. She played in 26 games with the Ducks in 2008-09 and averaged 1.3 points and one rebound per game.
After leaving Oregon and redshirting at Trinity Valley Community College with a knee injury in 2009-10, Gaynor came to MSU as a sophomore in 2010-11. In 22 games as a sophomore, Gaynor averaged 10.3 minutes and 2.1 points per game.
Gaynor played in 27 games as a junior and started once for the Bulldogs and averaged 8 minutes per outing and averaged nearly two points per game.
The minutes have increased to 25.7 for Gaynor this season and is averaging 5.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. She is third on the team in assists with 33.
"I'm happy for her that she's been able to contribute," MSU women's coach Vic Schaefer said. "She's been a big part of the team and has some big games for us. We don't beat Missouri at Missouri without her. We don't beat Louisiana Tech here without her. We couldn't beat Arkansas without her either. She hit a big 3 in the corner against Arkansas when we were dying on the vine. No doubt that she's been a big part of our success and I'm glad we have her."
Gaynor remembers coming to Starkville with Diamber Johnson and Mary Kathryn Govero under former coach Sharon Fanning-Otis.
The time she has spent this season with a new group of Bulldogs has been rewarding as well.
"I've been watching them grow, become great young ladies and great basketball players," Gaynor said. "I wish I could be here when the program becomes a top 10 program, but coach says I've been here to be a part of the journey when I first started. It's a great group."
Schaefer said Gaynor can look back like Aqua Franklin's class did at Texas A&M and take pride with how far the program goes in the next few years.
"She can look back and say that I was on the ground floor when coach got there and built that program," Schaefer said. "She'll have some pride on that day like Aqua did at Texas A&M and her class was sitting in the stands crying with everybody else. I'm happy she's had the success she's had."
Mississippi State has split the six games played in the Southeastern Conference to take records of 12-15 overall and 4-10 in the league into its final home game of the season.
The improvement that MSU has made during the course of the season under Schaefer has not gone unnoticed by Georgia head coach Andy Landers.
"Mississippi State is very, very capable," Landers said. "I really applaud their improvement from beginning to end. They have changed in every way that a team is supposed to change under a new coach. They have a new philosophy rooted in aggressive defense and you can see that their hard work is starting to play off in their recent success."
The Magnolia State Bulldogs are led by Martha Alwal, who averages 12.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Fellow sophomore Kendra Grant adds 11.8 points per outing.
Georgia, ranked No. 11 in the country, has records of 23-4 overall and 11-3 in the SEC.