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'It's awesome to see her growth': Nia Johnson helping to lead UNLV Lady Rebels

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Posted at 9:02 AM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 13:22:54-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Basketball is in Nia Johnson's blood.

The Lady Rebels' junior guard's father played collegiate basketball for Florida International and was a big reason she grew to love the sport.

"My dad put the ball in my hands at a really young age," said Johnson. "Obviously, I wasn't very good, but I kept working and practicing."

The Sacramento native would continue to grow her game, and her love for the sport would keep growing as well.

Her passion for basketball would lead her to win two state titles at West Campus High School.

Then, Johnson spent a year at Cal State Bakersfield before transferring to Diablo Valley College in California. She averaged 20 points and 7 rebounds per game.

That's where she caught the eye of UNLV, and the bright lights of Las Vegas came calling.

"Coach Lindy, talking to her really helped, and just Vegas in general," she said. "Who doesn't want to be in Vegas? I was just like, 'yeah, Vegas!'"

That decision paid off.

In the last couple of weeks, Johnson has averaged 17 points and 5 boards per game for the Lady Rebs, including two back-to-back 28-point games earlier this month.

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Head coach Lindy La Rocque said she believes Johnson's confidence has been the key.

"I think she just has a lot of confidence with the ball in her hands and making plays," said La Rocque. "I think it's a combination of just kind of feeling settled in her role, what we need her to do."

That new-found confidence led her to being named Mountain West Conference Player of the Week to start February. Then it led to a game-winner against San Diego State on Feb 16.

It was something her teammates had come to expect from the Lady Rebel.

"When it went in, I was just so excited," said redshirt-senior guard Bailey Thomas. "There were still two seconds left. So, I couldn't fully celebrate yet, but once the buzzer went off, I was just so happy for her."

Thomas said that it has been fun to see her teammate get better each day.

"Now, she's getting double-doubles, she's rebounding, she's scoring, hitting game-winners, so she's come a long way and it's awesome to see her growth," Thomas said.

This month has been one to remember for No. 30 on the Lady Rebels, but she said it's just the start.

"It's been so crazy," Johnson said. "I'm really blessed to be in a situation where I am, and I am just gonna continue to keep going, so I'm excited."

The Lady Rebels will play at Fresno State on Thursday, Feb. 25.