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Make no mistake, the temper is still there. In Saturday night’s game against Wichita State, Pitino was lucky not to get teed up for as much as he was barking at the referees and stalking onto the court. He rips into walk-ons and starters alike, and his battles of will with Russ Smith are approaching campus legend.

But his criticism is no longer so biting, and there’s affection beneath those barbs.

When he pokes fun at Smith _ a frequent occurrence _ Smith rolls his eyes and shakes his head. He refers to his team as family, and those aren’t empty words, forward Stephan Van Treese said. His office door is always open, and even freshmen feel comfortable enough to go in and talk with Pitino about things large and small.

When Kevin Ware’s tibia snapped, the bone protruding through the skin, during last weekend’s Midwest Regional final, those were real tears Pitino had to wipe away. Though the team returned to Louisville that night, Pitino and Richard, who’d recruited Ware when he was an assistant to his father, stayed in Indianapolis to be with the sophomore.

With the youngest of his own kids not much older than his players, Pitino tries to stay current, too. He’s a big fan of Pitbull, and knows enough about Twitter to tell his players to stay off of it. (He wasn’t so familiar with Instagram, but Peyton Siva might have spoiled that one.)

“You always hear about him being hard on his players but, to me, he’s a soft guy,” Siva said. “He’s still tough on us, but he’s more enjoyable off the court. He seems more relaxed. He seems to have more fun with things. … On the court he’s the most focused guy ever, but off the court he’s the most loveable guy ever.”

It’s no coincidence that Pitino’s new outlook has translated into one of the best runs of his career. The Cardinals have won 30 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history, reaching the Final Four each year. The 34 wins this season is a school record, and the 15-game winning streak is the longest in a decade.

If Louisville wins Monday, the Cardinals would be the eighth school with three or more NCAA titles. Pitino would be the 14th coach to win multiple titles, but the first to do it at two different schools.

“We know what a single game means to coach Pitino, let alone the national championship,” Siva said. “It would be a great milestone for him, but a great milestone for us, as well.”

Pitino insists the personal accolades mean little. It may have taken a while, but he’s learned the best things in his life and career are shared.

“Everything we do is about the team, about the family,” Pitino said. “I want to win because I’m a part of the team.”