December 9, 2023 

How Princeton’s Madison St. Rose has ‘blossomed’ into one of the Ivy League’s best

St. Rose was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season, but she wasn’t always confident or ready to attack. Now she’s both

Late in a game against Seton Hall on Nov. 29, Princeton sophomore Madison St. Rose was struggling offensively. She’d made a jumper less than 90 seconds into the game, but with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, she was still stuck on that one field goal, after five straight misses and five turnovers.

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Point guard Kaitlyn Chen looked to make a play with the Tigers up by two points, and St. Rose faded toward the corner, expecting Chen to drive to the basket. Forward Ellie Mitchell set a screen on St. Rose’s defender, and Chen kicked the ball out. Without hesitation, St. Rose sank the 3-pointer to give Princeton a five-point lead, prompting a Seton Hall timeout.

When St. Rose got to the sideline, head coach Carla Berube grinned widely and put both hands on St. Rose’s head. It was a big moment for the Tigers, who would ultimately need double overtime to beat their in-state rival, and it also showed St. Rose’s growth.

“Last year, if I had the opportunity to shoot that shot, I probably would have [overthought] the shot and I probably wouldn’t have shot it, or I might have turned the ball over,” St. Rose told The Next. “… So I feel like just that readiness and that confidence … is a big kind of play that I would say was really the difference from this year and last year.”

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St. Rose, a 5’10 guard from Old Bridge, New Jersey, made an instant impact as a freshman last season, winning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. She played in all 30 games, starting the final 21, and averaged 8.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. But she had a rocky beginning to her career, averaging only 6.1 points per game on 27.3% shooting from the field in 11 nonconference games in November and December.

“Maddie had no idea what was going on for the first half of [last] season,” Berube joked at Ivy League media day in October.

For St. Rose, the adjustment to college basketball was tough for several reasons. She had often played point guard in high school, and having the ball in her hands helped her find a rhythm. But at Princeton, she played off the ball, and she didn’t always know whether she should shoot or find her teammates, who included three all-Ivy League guards in Chen, senior Julia Cunningham and senior Grace Stone. It also took time for St. Rose to find a rhythm off the court, balancing school and basketball at the college level.

“In the beginning of the season, I was still adjusting to just constantly doing schoolwork [and] not being able to really go home. Like, my home was my room,” St. Rose said. “And I had to kind of schedule when I was gonna do work and then when I had to get shots up.”

St. Rose settled into a routine after the first semester ended, and the extra time in the gym started to make her more confident. She had scored in double figures only twice before conference play began, but starting in early January, she did so in nine of 10 games. The Tigers’ defensive schemes clicked for her, too, and in the postseason, she rarely came off the court. Though she struggled with her shot in the NCAA Tournament, she sealed Princeton’s one-point win against NC State in the first round by cutting off a drive with less than three seconds left and forcing the Wolfpack player to bobble the ball.

Princeton guard Madison St. Rose faces teammate Lexi Weger and clenches her fists as she's introduced in the starting lineup.
Princeton guard Madison St. Rose (23) is introduced in the starting lineup before the championship game of the Ivy League Tournament at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, N.J., on March 11, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Last summer, St. Rose committed to becoming a more consistent and confident player, getting stronger, and getting in better shape. At times as a freshman, she said, defending with Princeton’s trademark intensity left her tired on offense and not always ready to shoot. She didn’t like that she was “always on [her] heels” offensively, rather than being “in attack mode.”

So three times a week, St. Rose drove from Old Bridge to lift weights and shoot in Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium, a 40-minute commute each way.

“Once I actually got the time to drive my car again, I was happy to go anywhere,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t care about the distance.”

Those summer workouts, and the experience St. Rose got as a freshman, have paid dividends as a sophomore. In the season opener against Duquesne, she scored a career-high 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting, plus five rebounds, four steals and three assists. And she hasn’t slowed down much since, averaging 16.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals through nine games.

St. Rose currently ranks fourth in the Ivy League in points per game, up from 23rd as a rookie. She is also in the top 25 in assists, steals and minutes per game after appearing on none of those leaderboards last season. In short, she’s performed at an All-Ivy League level early in her sophomore season.

“She’s just starting to come into her own,” Berube told The Next, “and now she’s just certainly blossomed.”

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Though St. Rose has nearly doubled her scoring from her freshman year, Berube didn’t explicitly ask her to score more. She simply wanted her to shoot when she was open. But St. Rose is attacking more this season and taking significantly more shots — 14.0 per game compared with 9.0 as a freshman.

Those additional shots are spread out between the rim (0.7 more per game), the paint (1.0), the midrange (1.6) and behind the arc (1.6), according to data from CBB Analytics. And about half of her additional shots are coming off the dribble, according to Synergy data.

As St. Rose has shot more, her shooting percentages have increased as well. Her 3-point shooting has improved the most, by nearly 13 percentage points. That takes her from the 22nd percentile nationally last season to the 76th percentile now.

2-Point Percentage3-Point PercentageFree-Throw Percentage
Source: Her Hoop Stats

Looking at her jump shots specifically, St. Rose has been more efficient on both catch-and-shoot jumpers and shots off the dribble. Her effective field goal percentage has increased by 13.3 percentage points on catch-and-shoot jump shots and 9.3 points on dribble jumpers.

“She’s got a scorer’s mentality,” Berube said. “… [She’s] really confident in her shot and her playmaking ability. Her finishes around the rim and in the paint — she’s got great body control, [and] … a tough lefty release is hard to guard.”

A prime example of St. Rose’s newfound confidence came in Princeton’s win over Oklahoma on Thanksgiving. She struggled in pregame warmups and felt like she was missing every shot, yet she scored the first six points of the game. During the halftime break, she had to repeatedly call for the ball so she could get enough shots up, but she continued to shoot in the game, finishing with a career-high 22 shot attempts and a game-high 24 points. When she made a jumper in the paint for her final points, a teammate yelled from the bench, “She’s her!”

“When she sees some daylight, she’s gonna let that fly,” Berube said postgame. “She’s just getting her feet set well and using ball screens really well. And she … wasn’t just settling for threes; she was getting into the paint and making plays. … She’s definitely gotten better since last year. She’s a more complete three-level scorer.”

Princeton guard Madison St. Rose rises for a layup as an Oklahoma defender reaches toward her from behind, unable to contest the shot.
Princeton guard Madison St. Rose (23) shoots a layup during a game against Oklahoma at the Fort Myers Tip-Off at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Fla., on Nov. 23, 2023. (Photo credit: Tessa Mortensen)

Six days later, after St. Rose shot just 2-for-11 from the field against Seton Hall, Berube wasn’t concerned. She’s confident in St. Rose, and just as importantly, she knows St. Rose believes in herself. “There’s nothing to say [to her], just keep working,” Berube explained.

St. Rose still struggled from 2-point range in the next game against Rhode Island, shooting 1-for-10, but hit four of her five 3-pointers. She then put all the pieces back together against Quinnipiac on Dec. 6, shooting 6-for-8 on 2-pointers and 1-for-2 from behind the arc for an efficient 17 points.

“No matter how the game is going, even though she’s just a sophomore, she plays with so much confidence, so much composure,” Mitchell told The Next.

St. Rose taking her game to a new level has been crucial for Princeton’s offense. The Tigers are scoring slightly more efficiently than last year’s team, despite graduating three key rotation players and playing a brutal nonconference schedule. St. Rose’s growth has given Chen, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, an offensive co-star, whereas last year Chen was relied on more heavily.

And when both players are rolling, look out, as teams like Oklahoma and Quinnipiac have seen firsthand. “They have two critical guards … and they scored at will today,” Oklahoma head coach Jennie Baranczyk lamented postgame.

Though St. Rose was already a good defender as a freshman, she has stepped up on that end as well as a sophomore. She often guards the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, taking over Cunningham’s role as a defensive stopper. In her second year in the program, she is much more comfortable with the intricacies of the defense — for example, not just knowing where she should rotate, but also understanding where her help is coming from. That understanding gives her the confidence to pressure the ball more and jump in passing lanes, which has led to more steals.

Princeton guard Madison St. Rose bends her knees and holds her arms out wide as she defends on the perimeter.
Princeton guard Madison St. Rose (23) defends Harvard guard Saniyah Glenn-Bello during the championship game of the Ivy League Tournament at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, N.J., on March 11, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

One way St. Rose has improved defensively is by helping teach Princeton’s six freshmen this season. When she sees them make a mistake, she said, “It kind of [is] a teaching point for me to not make those same mistakes again.”

A common theme in talking to Berube and her players is how much St. Rose has helped and inspired the newcomers, on and off the court. The freshmen see her and know that it’s possible to contribute on the court right away, as she did last season. And St. Rose’s first year at Princeton is still fresh in her mind, so she knows how to ease her teammates’ transition to school and basketball.

“She’s stepped back on campus this season and now she’s a leader,” Berube said at media day. “Now she’s showing the underclassmen — even though she’s an underclassman, but she’s an experienced underclassman — just how to do this.”

For St. Rose, guiding the freshmen has felt natural, even as she has had to work at using her voice in other ways on the court. When she was a freshman, it felt better when a teammate corrected her than when a coach did, so she tries to talk to her younger teammates before the coaches have to step in. And she wants to see them become the best players they can be, so she doesn’t hesitate to give advice.

After St. Rose drained the late 3-pointer at Seton Hall, while she drank water from a blue plastic bottle during the timeout, ESPN+ broadcaster Jon Mozes wondered aloud how she’d stayed confident on an off shooting night. Luckily, he had an insider to ask: His broadcast partner was Cunningham, who had helped mentor St. Rose the same way she’s doing now for the freshmen.

“She does not shy away from the moment,” Cunningham said. “That’s one thing I love about her. She always has a calm, cool demeanor, and when she has an open shot, she’s gonna take it.”

St. Rose showed the confidence Cunningham alluded to in glimpses late last season, and now she has it consistently. Initially, she was proof of concept for the freshmen that they could earn minutes right away. Now she’s showing them how much it’s possible to grow in one year’s time.

“She’s just a baller,” Berube said. “She’s just been balling.”

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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