Yes, it's only January, but when the Southern Oregon women's basketball team plays host to Oregon Tech tonight there will be much more on the line than rivalry game bragging rights.

That's because for the first time in a long time, the Raiders are good. Very good, actually. Southern Oregon enters the Cascade Collegiate Conference clash red hot, having won 10 of its last 11 games. It is 13-3 overall and 4-2 in league play, tied with the Hustlin' Owls for third place in the CCC standings.

You can thank SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy. Three years after arguably the worst season in Raider history and the last for former head coach Kevin Wilson, the rebuilding project is over. It's built. Kennedy has somehow managed to put together not only one of the best teams in the conference, he also has the youngest and one of the most exciting.

The Raiders are tops in the league in scoring, 3-point shooting and rebounding and are led by senior guard Chelsey Muri, who can often be seen diving for loose balls.

So, why is tonight's game important? A win would give SOU the early head-to-head edge over Oregon Tech, and a resounding victory could prove that the Raiders belong with the league's upper echelon teams like Eastern Oregon and The College of Idaho.

The men's game is also a big one &

it always is when OIT comes to town &

but for different reasons. For SOU (6-10, 2-4 CCC), it represents the latest opportunity to get that 800-pound gorilla off its back: Tech has won the last 12 head-to-head matchups dating back to the 2002 season.

For the 17th-ranked Owls, it's the closest thing to a must win that you can have this time of year. They're battling Eastern Oregon and Northwest for Cascade Conference supremacy and can't afford a loss to a lower-level team like Southern.

The Raiders may not be a pushover, however. They swept last weekend's road trip north, beating Concordia and Corban, and appear to be coming together just in time for a critical midseason stretch that will likely determine where they end up in the final league standings.

Raider guard Matt Cowell will be one to watch tonight. The senior Grants Pass High graduate is scoring a team-best 17 points per game; he's netted 36 points, 32 and 22 in his last three games.