NOT TOO LONG AGO, Keith Washington knew rice only as something that went with beans.

Later, because of basketball, he became aware of Rice University, though he admittedly knew little about the school beyond its location (Houston, Texas).

"When I was playing for Frankford last year," said Washington, a 6-2, 180-pound point guard, "Rice showed some interest in me and I looked a little deeper into it. I know a lot about it now."

Good thing. That's where he's headed.

Washington, now doing a post-grad year at Mont Clare Academy in Phoenixville, committed to Rice Saturday after playing a game against Philly's Rise Academy. Did so right in the locker room, in fact.

"The coach [Ben Braun] told me, 'If you want to come to Rice, we have a scholarship for you,' " Washington said. "I told him right away, 'I'll take it.' "

Washington, a second team Daily News All-City selection, created quite a stir last winter. Not only was he talented and frisky, he shocked/entertained observers by shooting jumpers and free throws lefthanded but launching layups righthanded.

Washington said Rice re-expressed interest in mid-October, in the person of assistant Marco Morcos, and that he'd since initiated almost daily contact with same.

"He came to see me, and said he liked what he saw, and that coach Braun would be around at some point," Washington said.

"I had high expectations. I was playing against a lot of tough competition and doing really well. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the D-I ride. I'm not like how I was at Frankford anymore; having to score a lot, too. Now I'm a true point guard, getting everybody the ball."

Coaching milestone

Just 2 days into his 14th season, Neumann-Goretti coach

Carl Arrigale

claimed his 300th career victory Saturday night at American University, in Washington, D.C., as his Saints downed Sidwell Friends (D.C.), 76-61, in a Gonzaga Classic semifinal. Soph guard

Ja'Quan Newton

led the way with 28 points. The win made Arrigale's record 300-75 (.800).