Women's basketball has seen a lot of changes since the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was formed a decade ago. But one thing hasn't changed: the success of the Maryland Terrapins.

Maryland is the only team to be ranked in the Philadelphia Inquirer's top 20 every week since the poll's debut in 1977. The Terrapins have reached the national quarterfinals five years in a row, advancing to the final four in 1978 and 1982.

This season, the Terrapins are again the best team in this area, although Howard has eight seniors and a good chance of successfully defending its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. And back again at the University of the District of Columbia, after winning a year-long legal battle, is Bessie Stockard.

Stockard was fired a year ago as coach at UDC. But she won a sex discrimination case against the university and returns to a job in which she has won 240 of 282 games, dating back to 1969 at UDC's predecessor, Federal City College. Her team bears watching, with four starters back and a top-notch freshman. So does Virginia, a dark horse for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Pat Head, the coach at Tennessee, says Maryland has been so consistent because Chris Weller gets her share of the best recruits and simply because she's a good coach.

"We're very proud of the Inquirer poll record," Weller said. "We've been one of the top four teams in the nation in terms of consistency the last five years. We've been able to maintain that consistency because of a commitment on the part of our players.

"A college women's player puts in the same time as a men's player without the motivation of a pro contract. She has the self-satisfaction of knowing she did her best."

Under Weller's guidance, the Terrapins have won with speed (in the middle '70s, with Tara Heiss), height (1977-78, with Kris Kirchner and Krystal Kimrey) and with quickness in recent years. Maryland's success is no mystery, according to Weller.

"We stress the fundamentals, mentally and physically," she said. "Our organization on the court isn't that drastically different from year to year. We'll sit down with the players and plan, based on our personnel's physical abilities. For example, can we cover three-quarters of the court or the full court with our press?"

Although Maryland's success has continued through the years, the AIAW is likely headed for extinction. The NCAA played host to its first women's basketball championship last year, and an antitrust suit the AIAW brought against the NCAA is in its final stages of litigation. A decision is expected in 30 to 45 days.

The men's game will emulate the women's shot clock on an experimental basis in some conferences this season. And the women's game had a recruit (Cheryl Miller, now at Southern California) as highly publicized as many of the top male players. The women's NCAA final will be televised live (CBS) from Norfolk April 3, after the 1982 final drew a record crowd of 10,000 at the Scope.

Defending national champion Louisiana Tech built an 8,000-seat arena for its team after several years of sellouts in a 4,000-seat gym. But only in certain areas of the country does women's basketball draw well. Last year's Atlantic Coast Conference final between Maryland and North Carolina State in Raleigh drew only 500. And Maryland, despite its consistency in the polls, has drawn consistently poorly. This season, the university is offering a two-for-one season-ticket plan.

"There's not even a comparison between the players when I started at Maryland and the players now," Weller said. "Several players (former Kansas star Lynette Woodard, Miller and Old Dominion's Anne Donovan) can dunk and we use sophisticated offenses and defenses. It's a faster-paced game. We averaged more points in the ACC last year than the men's team." (The Maryland women averaged 75.4 points, the men 61.3 last season.)

Miller was as highly recruited as any male player last winter. A 6-foot-3 player, she averaged 37.1 points in high school with one game of 105. Her presence on the Trojans' roster along with twin 6-3 sophomores Paula and Pam McGee (40 points, 21 rebounds together) makes USC (23-4 last season) the NCAA favorite.

Not that two-time defending champion Louisiana Tech (35-1) is out of the picture. Pam Kelly, winner of the Wade Trophy as the top collegiate player, and all-America guard Angela Turner have graduated, but the Techsters still have 6-3 center Janice Lawrence and an excellent point guard in Kim Mulkey, along with some fine freshmen.

Tennessee (22-10) is another team to watch after four straight berths in the final four. The Volunteers will open without Sheila Collins, their top scorer (14.2 points), who incurred a knee injury last month and will be out for three months.

Fans in Norfolk should be smiling again this winter as Donovan, a 6-8 all-America center (20.7, 14.7, six blocks per game), should again dominate for Old Dominion (22-6). Dawn Cullen (6-4) and Medina Dixon, a 6-1 transfer from South Carolina, will try to make Donovan's senior year as enjoyable as her title-winning freshman season.

Maryland (25-7) is the other team with a good shot at the national championship. Only star forward Myra Waters graduated from last year's third-place squad. Guard Debbie Lytle (11.8 points), who led the Terrapins in steals and assists, will team with ball-handler Marcia Richardson (12.6) to give Maryland one of the best back courts around. Jasmina Perazic, the team's leading scorer last season (15.2), will be up front, along with 6-0 freshman Chequita Wood from Marshall High School and 6-2 Belinda Pearman or 6-0 Finnish star Lea Hakala.

UDC has a highly regarded freshman, 6-3 Janet Arrington, to play up front with 6-3 center Chanel Hamilton. Yolene Young (5-10) and Louise Spriggs (5-11) will help give the Firebirds (14-11 in 1981-82) a strong front court.

At Howard, also 14-11 last season, Coach Sanya Tyler has as returnees 6-3 Claudia Eaton, 6-1 Lisa Mungo, forward Robin Duncan and an excellent point guard in 5-2 Michelle Dyer, who led the MEAC in assists. Virginia (17-11) has back 5-10 Cathy Grimes (13.8 points), a sophomore forward from T.C. Williams High School, and 6-1 Chrissy Reese, a center from Holy Cross High School who has been slowed the past two years with a foot injury.