Milwaukie's Cali Denson (22) celebrates with teammates after reaching 2,000 points last week. (Photo courtesy Milwaukie HS)
Milwaukie's Cali Denson (22) celebrates with teammates after reaching 2,000 points last week. (Photo courtesy Milwaukie HS)

High-scoring Milwaukie senior guard Cali Denson moved into rare territory in Oregon girls basketball history last week.

The 5-foot-8 Denson became the 21st player in the state to reach the 2,000-point plateau in Milwaukie's 72-42 win at St. Helens on Wednesday.

With 2,050 points through Monday, Denson has climbed to No. 15 all-time, just behind Tammy Arnold (2,077) of Oregon City, Taycee Wedin (2,097) of La Salle Prep and Shoni Schimmel (2,120) of Hermiston and Franklin.

“When you're looking at it on paper and breaking it down, it's like, wow, that's crazy,” said Milwaukie coach Michael White, her father. “It's kind of surreal.”

To mark the 2,000-point achievement, the team presented her with a signed basketball. A parent also gave her 2,000 Sour Patch Kids, her favorite candy.

Denson's career scoring average is 25.6. During her career, she has eclipsed 40 points three times, 30 points 23 times and 20 points 35 times. She has scored in double figures in all but four games.

Denson made a splash in her first season at Milwaukie, setting a state freshman record with a 46-point game against Hillsboro and averaging 27.1 points per game. She scored 754 points in her second season (30.2 per game), the most ever for a sophomore in state history and No. 8 all-time for all classes.

By scoring 1,378 points in her first two seasons, Denson was in position to threaten the state career mark of 2,894, set by Kiana Brown of 1A Triangle Lake (2011-14). But she played only 16 games during a COVID-shortened junior season, scoring 328 points (20.5 per game), and entered this season with a career total of 1,706.

“She was on that trajectory,” White said of the state-record pace. “It looked like it was going to happen, especially with adding some playoff appearances. Having our season cut in half last season really cut into that total. It's unfortunate, but at the end of the day, we just want to get wins.”

This season, slowed by a sore knee and facing double- and triple-teams, Denson is averaging 21.5 points per game.

Denson also has turned her focus more to facilitating for teammates and improving her defense in the last two seasons. She is averaging about five steals per game this season.

“We're really almost hypersensitive focusing on the defensive end for her,” White said. “We're not even thinking about the offensive stuff, because that definitely is there. She's kind of taken more pride in her defense than her offense.”

With opponents paying so much attention to Denson, Milwaukie has found other players to help shoulder the scoring load.

“Teams have fine-tuned their defense over the last three years to literally come at us for Cali now,” White said. “We've got a few more contributions from other players, which has made it a little bit easier for her.

“This year I'm trying to take her out of it a little bit, have her create for some of her teammates. That way we have more of a well-balanced attack.”

Denson's biggest game this season came in the final of a tournament in Las Vegas in December. She scored a season-high 35 points, making several key baskets in the final minutes, as the Mustangs defeated Cherokee Trail (Colo.) 46-43.

Milwaukie (7-9, 2-5 5A Northwest Oregon Conference) will need Denson to show the way down the stretch to have a shot at making the postseason.

“I'm expecting a couple 40-burgers here at the end,” White said.

White said that after Denson's sophomore season, she had received multiple Division I offers, including Portland, Tulsa, UC San Diego, Eastern Washington and William & Mary. Unable to take an official visit, though, she wanted to wait and make a more informed decision.

“We waited, and those schools moved on,” White said. “Now we're like, 'What do we do?'”

White said Denson might play a post-graduate year at a prep school in Florida and enter college in 2023.

“Just doing that, and reclassifying, she'll get back on the bandwagon with a bunch of offers. I'm positive of it,” White said.