From foes to friendsWhen Sierra Vista and Pima played, Johnson and Nakai guarded each other. As members of the Wolf Pack, they bonded over their playing days JUCO programs. “It’s really helped us connect,” Johnson said. “I was playing against her and now playing with her. It just formed that immediate chemistry. Now I know how she plays and she knows how I play, so we can build off that.” Nakai immediately formed a friendship with Johnson as a result. “It’s nice knowing someone from a different area,” she said. ‘There are so many new faces, but I recognized hers. It’s kind of crazy that we’re both here at the same time and we’ve built a friendship off of it.” Both players have a track record at their former programs. Nakai set the Pima school record with 1,397 career points and 442 assists. She was the first Pima women’s basketball player to be named outright the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Year. “I gained so much knowledge and different things like that during my time there,” Nakai said. “It’s just the player I am. I want to bring it into this year with a new team. ” Johnson led Cochise to a 24-8 overall record last season to advance to the NJCAA Tournament. She started 31 games and scored in double-figures 14 times, including a season-high 17 points against Midland. As members of the Wolf Pack, Johnson and Nakai offer unique skill sets for Levens to utilize. Nakai’s 3-point shooting presence has spaced out the perimeter for Nevada’s offensive set. She’s made 4-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc this season and knocked down 151 3-pointers at Pima Community College. Johnson maximizes her time on the floor. She averaged 8.1 points per game last year and had 82 assists, 36 steals and 23 blocks. Her defensive mindset has helped her make a new goal for the season. “Defense is the first thing that comes to mind for me,” she said. “I’m looking forward to becoming Defensive All-Conference this year. … But I’m always going to bring that effort on both ends of the floor.”
Maio moves right into starting roleMaio also has an impressive JUCO resume. The 5-foot-9 guard played two seasons at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake County, Utah. During that span, she helped the Bruins win back-to-back Region 18 titles and two NJCAA Tournament appearances. Maio received NJCAA All-America second team honors twice and was named the Region 18 MVP in 2018-19. Maio has carried her success at Nevada. She’s tied for fourth on the team in scoring with 18 points and has added eight assists and three steals. Levens has been impressed with Maio’s impact early in the season. “She’s been getting after it and really sharing the ball,” she said. “She’s an unselfish player and knows how to make the right play.” The JUCO triad has immediate contributions and their chemistry can make the Pack a force to be reckoned with. “It’s going to be nice to gel with the rest of the team throughout the rest of the year,” Nakai said. “We have a lot of talent and I’m doing whatever I can to fit in.” Nevada tops Utah Valley, improve to 3-0 Nevada’s blistering-hot third quarter lifted the Pack past Utah Valley 60-57 on Saturday. Trailing by four at halftime, Nevada outscored Utah Valley 25-10 in the third quarter capped-off by Nakai’s back-to-back 3-pointers. The Pack improve to 3-0 on the year, the best start since 2010-11. Nevada shot 40 percent from the field— 60 percent in the third quarter— and 31 percent from 3-point range. Junior guard Essence Booker had a game-high 16 points with five rebounds and four assists. Freshman forward Dom Phillips scored 14 points with four rebounds. Sophomore Imani Lacy added 10 points and 6 rebounds. The Wolf Pack held Utah Valley to 30 points in the second half. Nevada totaled five blocks and three steals en route to closing out the win. Up Next: The undefeated Nevada team plays at noon Saturday, Nov. 23, at Portland State of the Big Sky Conference.
— Isaiah Burrows