KNOXVILLE - Josh Bone isn't going to wow many people with his play on the basketball floor, but that doesn't mean the Tennessee guard isn't a valuable player to the Volunteers.
Just ask UT freshman forward Tobias Harris.
"Defensive stopper, leader, 3-point shooter and somebody you can count on out there," Harris said of Bone after Friday's light practice for today's Southeastern Conference game against visiting Alabama.
UT (15-7, 5-2) will be without Scotty Hopson, the Vols' star guard and leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, for the second consecutive game.
Enter Bone, a sturdy 6-foot-3 senior. He got the first start of his UT career in Hopson's place against Auburn on Thursday night and scored eight points in UT's 69-56 victory.
"I was excited," Bone said. "I've never started here, so it was big for me, it was special and I guess I took advantage of it. We got the 'W' and that's all that matters."
After missing the season's first 11 games with a wrist injury, Bone is averaging a mere three points and one rebound in 16 minutes per game, though there isn't a stat that can quantify Bone's best asset.
"Josh is one of our best defensive players," said UT coach Bruce Pearl, who will serve the last game of his SEC suspension today. "He's a senior, and he's made a real, real difference in this stretch of games where we've played great defense. It's been pretty consistent."
Said Harris: "He does a bit of everything well. He does the little things for us to be a successful team."
For UT to be successful against the league-leading Crimson Tide (14-7, 6-1), its offense will be the key. Alabama allows a league-low 57 points per game, and its opponents shoot just 36.3 percent, the second-best in the country.
"I imagine it's going to be a very physical game, and the key for us is to be able to take care of the basketball," Pearl said. "They lead the league in steals and turning you over. So if they steal it from you, and they turn you over, you don't shoot it. You don't shoot it, you can't score and that's why the score's [low]. We can't have unforced turnovers. That fuels their offense, and that's there game right there."
As much as UT will miss Hopson's scoring, the junior's athleticism on defense also will be difficult to replace against a team with more athleticism than what the Vols saw with Auburn.
"We'll always miss [Hopson's] offense," Pearl said, "but sometimes we'll miss his defense against a good player 'cause you can put Scotty in a one-on-one situation -- his man's not going to score. Then you put Bone on another guy that's tough to cover and you've got something there."
Bone started 19 games in his two seasons at Southern Illinois, where he signed out of Brentwood Academy after winning four state titles with Brandan Wright, an eventual NBA lottery pick.
After walking on at UT, Bone played in 15 games last season, earning a scholarship and developing his reputation as a lockdown defender and a reliable open 3-point shooter.
"I always took pride in being a defender," he said. "Growing up I was always a scorer, but I was never a man that was going to let my man score on me every time.
"When I got here, to get on the floor, I knew I had to play defense. I started to take more pride in it and try to lock down everybody I had in front of me."