Tonight is the night for which American University has impatiently waited -- the night the Eagles, on a 12-game winning streak, play Georgetown, the team that has overshadowed them on the local basketball scene for years.

American last beat the Hoyas in January 1975. Georgetown has since become the big kid on the block, averaging 22 victories per year over the last six years and playing in the NCAA tournament three times. y

Meanwhile, the Eagles have sputtered along in relative obscurity with a bunch of mediocre seasons. But AU hasn't lost a game in 1981. Georgetown (11-8) has lost two of its last three and is not the dominating team AU has struggled to keep pace with in the past.

Even without their explosive scorer and forceful rebounder, Boo Bowers, the Eagles are ready to warm up frosty Fort Myer with their most inspired play of the season. American is still the underdog. But an Eagle victory in the 8 o'clock gaem would not be a big upset. The game is expected to be a sellout, the first sellout at Fort Myer since February 1979, also against Georgetown.

AU Coach Gary Williams, in his third year and still probably the least recognized college coach in the area, said, "This is the first year that the players feel they can legitimately compete against Georgetown. We're not cocky, but we've built confidence by winning ballgames in tough places."

Williams and his players are not in awe of Georgetown anymore. They wouldn't be even if John Duren and Craig Shelton -- last year's Georgetown heroes -- took the court tonight in blue Hoya road uniforms. AU will assume its usual underdog role tonight because the Hoyas are a slightly better team -- bigger, better at rebounding and as disciplined as any team in the East.

"And don't forget that they're tournament tough," said Williams. "Fred Brown (the Hoya's freshman point guard) is the only player among the starting five who hasn't had NCAA tournament experience. We're a lot less experienced than they are.

"Everybody's asking, 'What's wrong with Georgetown?', but out of those eight losses they've had only one letdown, against Providence. That happens once a year to everybody. With all their recent success, people get spoiled. They've proven themselves."

Tonight's game will give the Eagles a chance to do likewise, to the rest of the area college basketball fanatics who can recite every Albert King or Sleepy Floyd statistic, but wouldn't know an Eddie Sloane if they saw one.

The Eagles must also prove they can beat a top-caliber team. Only five of their 12 victories have come against teams with winning records, and one of those was against Division Iii Washington College. The closest Georgetown-caliber opponent AU has faced -- Maryland -- beat AU by 30 points six weeks ago. That was AU's last loss.

"We still kind of like being the underdog," Williams said. "It's a pretty good motivator, too. We're keyed up, but not overly so."

The Eagles may need a little extra. They have three players scoring in double figures -- Sloane, Mark Nickens and Robin Hoey. But in Williams' words, "Georgetown is two inches per man taller than we are."

Still, Williams has figured out how to beat taller teams for a dozen straight now. The key is that Williams realized before the season that for the Eagles to win consistently, his team could not rely solely on Bowers' prowess.

"We put in an offense in October that emphasized looking for everybody to score, not just Boo," Williams said. "Of course everybody knew Boo could score, but we decided early on to get a team concept this year.

"Obviously, you'd like to have a Bowers going into the Georgetown game, but we've become more patient. The worst thing to do is make drastic changes because you lose one very good player."