Kris Kirchner's 8-year-old brother took her to show-and-tell.

"This," the youngster said, "is my sister, the basketball player."

Guard Tara Heiss, Maryland's All-America a candidate, mentioned in a published interview that the Phoenix Suns' Paul Westphal is her idol. The next morning at 9 a.m., Heiss was jolted out of bed by a phone call from Westphal, who called to thank her.

Doreen Lefeged was sitting in her dormitory room one evening when an attractive, 6-foot-1 stranger walked through her door and introduced himself.

"I know who you are, and I'd like to sit and rap," the handsome intruder said, "Would you like to have a pizza?"

Another time, Lefeged was shopping in Montgomery Mall when an older man she had never seen before called her by name, complimented the basketball abilities and tried to give her $5 as a donation to the team.

The team is the Maryland women's basketball team. It is ranked sixth in the country and leaves today for Cleveland, Miss., to continue play in the national collegiate tournament. Its days of anonymity have gone the way of the old six-player game.

The adulation has not reached the peak attained by the men. But the women do sign autographs and receive flowers, telegrams, letters, and phone calls from fans much more often than last year.

This season, as they're climbed into the national rankings and the top half of the sports pages, some Maryland women players have even received standing ovations when they walk into class.

"That's probably just because they made it to class," said Mary Briese, the team comedienne.

Suddenly a lot of men on campus act as go-between for their sisters, who want an autograph, or some advice. Heiss confirms that the players can tell when a man becomes truly interested in them, because he starts showing up at games. Or even at practices. Many of these young men are acquaintances. Some hope to be.

"For a lot of them, it takes them a while to get up the nerve to say hello," said Heiss. "My mother sat next to a student from Howard at one of our games. He told her he hadn't missed one of my games in four years, and that he just couldn't believe he was sitting next to Tara Heiss' mother, eating peanuts."

Heiss is the object of most of the recognition. In an informal survey conducted by The Washington Post in Cole Field Home yesterday, 20 students were asked to name as many women basketball players as they could. Of the 14 who could name at least one, everyone named Heiss.

"It's flattering," said Heiss.

"I got a letter from a little girl - most of them are from little girls - and she said, 'Our team is really horrible. We haven't won a game but there's still hope. I would like for you to come to dinner at my house and maybe help our team. My father can pick you up."

Heiss read the letter aloud in the locker room and there were some chuckles. But to show how much of a joke it really is, she is asking a couple of teammates to go with her to see one of the little girl's workouts. They'll skip dinner, and they'll drive themselves.

"You have to answer all the letters," said Heiss. "They look up to you. It means a lot of them."

Heiss used to write that kind of letter. She wrote one to Casey Stengel, and he wrote her back. She never forgot it.

Heiss estimates that about 10 strangers a day talk to her about basketball. A worker at a taco house, when he saw her picture in the paper, gave her a free chilli quesadilla. Heiss is even bigger at the restaurant most frequented by the team, where entire tables full of patrons whisper rather loudly, "Is that Tara Heiss?"

The women find their first brush with campus recognition both flattering and embarrassing.

Lefeged said that when the man she's dating walks her to the door, he looks at the notes tacked on it and "he asks, 'Who are all these guys who left you messages?'"

Lefeged said that unsolicited male attention "is a big problem. I've had guys call me at 2 or 3 in the morning and ask for dates. I can't answer my phone. Friends answer it for me and won't let anyone talk to me unless they give their name.

"Guys wander into my room - a lot of them were basketball players in high school, and they're nice-look, tau, well-built. They want to play one-on-one or take me home to show me to their parents.

Lefeged said that at first, the attention "was so much I wanted to quit. I'd get upset and go to Miss (Coach Chris) Weller, crying."

Now, when someone walks up to her in the dining hall and offers to carry her tray, as often happens, she enjoys it. Briese feels the notoriety may help her get a job after college. And in a situation where million-dollar contracts have not yet presented themselves to women players, a little recognition helps morale.

"Some days you're wondering why you're running up and down the court. You think maybe you're crazy. You think maybe you're a little old for this kind of thing," said Briese. "To be recognized, or appreciated, makes all the hard work easier.

"Being ranked is one thing. But having fans is quite another."