The first rule of outdoor basketball, Maryland's Tara Heiss has learned, is to quit when lightning strikes the hoop.

"That happened to me once when I was shooting in the pouring rain," she said. "A bolt hit one basket near me, and I just grabbed that ball - glad as everything it was rubber - and hid under a nearby building.

"I love to play, though. Summers, I'll play three hours or so about every day, near my home in north Bethesda or wherever there might be a game. When it gets dark, I'll be at the free-throw line, imagining there's no time left and the game's tied. I make the shot and I go wild."

Heiss has known pressure when the dreams clicked off. She is the leader of one of the best women's teams in the country, a near-Olympian who plays not so gently on men's minds during perhaps hundreds of mixed games over the years.

Two springs ago, a hoop freak in need of a fix paused in Cole Field House to watch a pickup game that included Mo Howard and Steve Sheppard, Lawrence Boston, Larry Gibson and two gifted point guards, Brad Davis and Heiss.

She does not recall the game and that was surprising. How could any Maryland student - let alone a woman - not remember even the tiniest detail of such an experience? Well, because Heiss is not just any Terrapin.

If the truth be known, she could get the ball upcourt against pressure in the Thacker-Packer ACC at least as well as any of Lefty Driesell's players. And in the women's ACC, Heiss - at 5-feet-6 - is capable of dominating some games by herself, as she did against North Carolina State in Maryland's 89-82 victory for the ACC Championship.

A senior, she passes and penetrates with a special flair that only can be developed in reasonably serious games with men, who she insists do not outwardly display their damaged egos after she bolts by them for a scoop layup.

"Maybe if its the first time I've played against a guy - and he's with his friends - he'll do anything he can to block my shot next time," she said. "But I've not had any bad experiences. Not really.

"At first, no one would notice me. I'd ask if I could play, they'd say yes and then no one would pass me the ball. And when they did I'd have to gun it up just to show'em I could shoot, so I could get the ball back again sometime."

Heiss first started playing basketball in the ninth grade, was a shooter of the gatling-gun variety at Walter Johnson High but now has learned to tame a once-wild desire to drive and score nearly every time down court.

"They used to defend me by drawing the charge," she said. "This year, I'm under control. I know when to drive. And Jane (Zivalich) and Debbie (Jones) really know how to fill a lane on the break. Everyone loves to run."

Heiss chose Maryland and basketball for the same reason that it beat getting a job out of high school. She and her friend, Marianne Crawford Stanley, once the best woman guard in the country at Immaculata College in Philadelphia, were the final cuts on the '76 Olympic team. Crawford Stanley, once the best woman guard in the country at Immaculata College in Philadelphia, were the final cuts on the '76 Olympic team.

I'd like to give it another try in 1980," Heiss said. "I know I want to get playing out of my system before I get into coaching. There're some real good leagues in California, and some good teams in Europe.

"I remember telling her (Maryland coach Chris Weller) that I felt ripped off by not making the team for Montreal and she said you just have to keep working, that you never know when you'll get a chance."

Although the player she most admires is Paul Westphal - "and not just because he wears No. 44 like I do" - she does not see anyone but herself during those dusk fantasies on the free-throw line.

"But I do see myself playing only the best teams," she said. Earlier this season, she and Maryland in fact played another of the best - UCLA - before 10,000 fans who drifted into Cole Field House before the Maryland men's game and liked what they saw.

"I really wasn't conscious of the crowd," she said, "until once near the end when Ann Meyers was on the foul line. Somebody in the stands yelled: 'Your brother (Dave) stunk.' That broke me up."

If Heiss has broken any sex barriers, they are small ones. But she has shown that a Belmont Abbey player named Bobby Moran is an equal opportunity defender, capable of being burned by talented men and talented women.

"He once guarded Lloyd Free," Heiss said, "and of course Free jammed him. And he once guarded M.L. Carr, who did the same thing. He can't jump any higher than me, hardly."

Sometimes Heiss sees herself playing in men's collegiate leagues, perhaps at the Belmont Abbey level, and sometimes Maryland students see her playing the point for the Terrapin men.

"Yeah, they'll say that," she said, "but of course I couldn't play defense. Everybody'd just post me down low and score all the time.

"But I do believe I could get the ball downcourt. I do dribble well enough. After that, I have no idea what would happen."