Milwaukie's Cali Denson scores 1,000th career point in home win
Two Scappoose defenders shadowed Milwaukie's Cali Denson from the opening tip Tuesday.
They didn't always keep up with Denson, and at this point, they were running two steps behind the play.
Alone with the ball on the left wing, Denson pulled up in front of the Mustangs' bench and knocked down a 3-pointer to get her to 1,000 points for her career.
That came with 1:03 to play in the third quarter and highlighted the Mustangs' 58-37 Northwest Oregon Conference victory over the Indians at Milwaukie High School.
And here's the kicker: Denson is only a sophomore.
A 5-foot-7 guard who scores points as easily from the inside as she does from the outside and at the free-throw line, Denson became only the third Milwaukie player to surpass 1,000 career points and she did it in only 36 games — 23 games last season and 13 games this season.
"It means a lot," Denson said of the milestone. "Sometimes when I'm playing, I don't even realize how many points I've scored. And then when I hear it, it's kind of surprising to me.
"All that hard work had paid off, you know? And it's going to continue to pay off."
Denson went into Tuesday's game needing 19 points to join the 1,000-point club, and she finished with 28 as the Mustangs improved to 7-6 overall and 2-1 in NWOC play.
"Yeah, I thought about it a little bit … a lot," Denson said with a chuckle. "I wasn't nervous, at all. My lowest game this year so far has been 17 points and that was the only one, so I knew I going to get it tonight.
"All I had to do was play 'Cali ball.' That's what I say to myself before every game, 'Play Cali ball.'"
Denson runs into a double-team almost every time she touches the ball, and on Tuesday it was Scappoose's Maddie Templin and Adi Stoddard who were assigned to pester the Mustangs' leading scorer from one end of the floor to the other.
"I've accepted that it's that way," Denson said. "It's difficult sometimes, but then I trust my teammates to catch a pass and knock down that shot."
Milwaukie freshman Polly Raugust had the hot hand early against Scappoose, racking up 16 first-half points with four 3-pointers, while Denson added 12 points and five assists to help carry the Mustangs to a 37-18 halftime lead.
Denson and Raugust scored Milwaukie's first eight points of the second half before Raugust when down with a knee injury and had to leave the game with the Mustangs leading 45-20.
From that point on, it was all Denson.
She made one of two free throws with 3:11 left in the third quarter for career point No. 997 to make it 46-24.
She hit another basket with 2:56 left that made it 48-24.
After Scapoosse's Dylan Mann scored for the Indians with 1:22 to play in the third quarter to make it 48-24, Denson pushed the ball into the front court on the left wing and stepped into the 3-pointer that pushed her over 1,000 career points.
"No, I had no idea that shot would do it," Denson said. "I just knew when I heard my bench screaming really loud that I'd done it."
Denson added another 3-pointer before the end of the third quarter and then scored all seven Milwaukie points in the fourth quarter.
"Honestly, the milestone wasn't something that we were necessarily pushing for," said Michael White, the Mustangs' head coach, and Denson's stepfather. "We've got it, and since people have been talking about it, it's good to have it behind us."
In 23 games last season, Denson scored 624 points — an average of 27.1 points per game — and she set an all-time Oregon freshman class record for points in a game when she scored 46 in a 68-67 home win over Hillsboro.
Through 13 games this season, she has scored 385 points — that's 29.6 points a game — and is on pace to take a run at the state's all-time sophomore class single-season scoring record of 737 points set by Triangle Lake's Kiana Brown in 2012.
Denson has scored in double figures in all 36 games she has played in high school, including scoring 20 or more points 31 times, 30 or more points 12 times, and 40 or more points three times.
Denson has a couple of other scoring marks that are within reach before the end of the season.
First, she needs 91 points to move ahead of Milwaukie's No. 2 all-time leading scorer Alexis Noren (2010-13), and she's only 137 points away from passing Margie Brown (1978-81) as the Mustangs' top scorer in school history.
"I think what Cali is doing is really great for the Milwaukie girls program," White said. "I just feel like Milwaukie is kind of a mecca for girls basketball right now with La Salle Prep, one of the state's top scorers here at Milwaukie High School, and then Putnam is doing pretty well, too.
"So I think this kind of shines a bright light on all Milwaukie-area basketball."
Denson would like to attach her name to a few more scoring records, if possible, although she sees herself as being more than just a scorer.
"My main role is just to be a leader to my teammates, even for the older onces," she said. "They're going to be gone soon, so I need to step up in that role. And then for the younger ones, it's important that I set a good examle for them. And I love them like they're family.
"Personally, my goal is still to be the leading scorer in the state and I want to try to reach 30 points a game. This means a lot, but I plan to keep on aiming higher and higher. I'm not going to settle for anything."
What about the state's all-time career scoring record of 2,894 points set by Triangle Lake's Brown in 2011-14?
"Yeah, I'm going to try," Denson said.
Milestones and scoring records aside, Tuesday's game also marked the first time Milwaukie had won back-to-back games this season, keeping the Mustangs in the middle of the NWOC playoff hunt.
"I have a strong feeling that we're going to get to the playoffs this year," White said. "I'd be a little surprised if we don't get that fourth spot. It's going to be tough, but I feel pretty strongly about that fourth spot."
La Salle Prep and Wilsonville are virtual locks for the top two spots in the league race. Milwaukie, Putnam, and St. Helens are currently in a three-way final for the league's final two playoff spots, with Hillsboro in a position to play spoiler or maybe even crash the playoff party.
"I think we're playing pretty good right now," Denson said. "Sometimes we have those mistakes that young teams make, like effort all around the board. But that's another goal for us as a team — to get to the playoffs. I know we can."
The more games she gets to play, the more opportunities she has to score.
SCAPPOOSE 9 9 11 8 — 37
MILWAUKIE 17 20 14 7 — 58
Scappoose (37) — Allison Wills 11, Templin 8, Stoddard 5, Nelson 4, Alivia Wills 3, Negelspach 2, Maak 1, Gray, Mann, Hagen.
Milwaukie (58) — Cali Denson 28, Raugust 21, Tuel 5, A. Miller 4, M. Miller, A. Hawkes, Cronk, Hill, K. Hawkes. Allen.
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