Taylorsville • East knew the run was coming, knew all too well what rival Highland was capable of with a berth in the state title game on the line.

The questions were: When would the Rams put it together and would the Leopards’ massive lead be enough?

The answers: The run came just after halftime and East’s 19-point lead was just enough to escape with a 44-38 victory in Friday’s Class 5A state semifinals.

“I think in the first half we got a little big-headed and we thought we had it,” East junior guard Rae Falatea said. “Second half … it was sort of an eye-opener for us. That we needed to respect them as a team and give it our all.”

Falatea’s play at both ends of the floor made the difference late after Highland’s 11-0 run closed the lead to 35-31 with 6:21 to play. She scored nine of East’s final 12 points, and her block on Misini Fifita’s 3-point attempt in the final minute sealed the victory for the Leopards.

Falatea finished with a game-high 19 points and made four 3-pointers.

“We saw a mismatch with Desirae inside,” East coach Olosaa Solovi said. “She is comfortable playing inside, so we made a conscious effort to pull our bigs out and get Desirae inside.

“When she’s hot, we want her to keep shooting.”

East (22-2) advanced to meet Timpview in Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship game.

The aggressive defense and free-flowing offense East displayed in the first half gave way to a bit of complacency then a tentative streak as Highland finally dented the scoreboard.

The Rams (13-12), who made just two field goals in the first half and trailed 27-11 at halftime, got eight points from Svetlana Olevao in the third quarter, and her 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter cut the lead to 35-30.

East helped fuel Highland’s comeback by taking some ill-advised 3-point attempts and quick shots.

“I lost 50 years of my life on that game,” Solovi said. “The problem with these leads is that we start to do things we’re not comfortable with, which is bad shots. We knew they would make a run.”

Highland drew within 38-36 on Chelsey Cowburn’s layup with 3:09 to play, but Highland managed just one basket the rest of the way.

Olevao finished with 13 points.

EAST 44, HIGHLAND 38

• East builds a 30-11 lead with 14 minutes left and holds on after Highland cuts the lead to two points in the fourth quarter.

• Rae Falatea scores a game-high 19 points, including nine of East’s final 12 points.

• Svetlana Olevao scores 13 points for Highland, which makes just two field goals in the first half.